Rafael Nadal eases past Flavio Cobolli on return to action in Barcelona

Rafael Nadal made a triumphant return to the match court with victory over Flavio Cobolli in the first round of the Barcelona Open.

The 37-year-old was playing just his second tournament in 15 months after suffering another injury problem in his hip muscle at his comeback event in Brisbane in January.

Nadal only committed to playing at the tournament he has won 12 times on Monday but there was not much rust on display as he eased to a 6-2 6-3 victory over 21-year-old Italian Cobolli in his first match on clay since he won his 14th French Open title in 2022.

Nadal received a hero’s welcome as he strode out onto the court that bears his name and, although there were a few loose forehands in the early stages, the former world number one was too solid for Cobolli.

Cobolli understandably looked nervous and contributed to the scoreline with far too many errors, but a big factor in that was the pressure being exerted from the other end of the court.

A blip came when Nadal, who is set to retire at some point this season, played a poor game to drop serve for the first time in the third game of the second set but he had already broken Cobolli and quickly restored his advantage.

There were some vintage forehands from Nadal in the final stages and he clinched victory when Cobolli netted a final backhand, thrusting his fist into the air.

“I enjoyed some unforgettable moments here so now I’m just having fun and happy to start with a victory without a doubt,” Nadal said courtside.

“I tried (to come back) a lot of times in my career, every time it’s more difficult and especially when you are at an advanced age it’s even tougher.

“I’m going through some tough moments but at the same time when I am able to be on the tour for a few days able to play and practice with the guys and compete a little bit means a lot to me. It’s still enjoyable enough to keep doing it.”

The home favourite faces a real test next, though, when he takes on in-form fourth seed Alex De Minaur.

British number one Cameron Norrie is through after facing a bizarre interruption to his match when his opponent’s phone rang.

French qualifier Harold Mayot was about to serve early in the second set when he had to run to his bag and turn the device off.

The 22-year-old was switched on enough to take the match to a deciding set, saving three match points in a second tie-break.

But having already received treatment on a groin injury, Mayot was forced to retire at the start of the third with the score 7-6 (3) 6-7 (6).

Meanwhile, second seed Andrey Rublev destroyed his racket at the end of a 6-4 7-6 (6) defeat by Brandon Nakashima that continued his poor run of form.