Rafael Nadal returns from rib injury at Madrid Masters

Rafael Nadal returns from rib injury at Madrid Masters and may face World No 1 Novak Djokovic in the semifinals

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Rafael Nadal returns to action at the Madrid Masters following a rib injury (stress fracture) that kept him out for about a month.

Nadal had won his first 20 matches of the year before getting injured in the semifinals at Indian Wells.

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He made it to the final but lost to Taylor Fritz for his first defeat of 2022.

Until then, it had been the third-best start to a season on the ATP Tour since 1990.

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“I have trained very little, because the rib is very disabling and also very painful,” he told reporters in Madrid.

“I had two very bad weeks and afterwards it has been very, very disabling.”

Nadal won the Australian Open for a record 21st Grand Slam title and also won in Melbourne and Acapulco.

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He missed tournaments in Miami, Monte Carlo and Barcelona because of the injury.

The 35-year-old Spaniard will be trying to win the Madrid title for the sixth time, and first since 2017, though he said last week he would have “few chances” of winning after arriving “with minimum preparation.”

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He will open his campaign against either Miomir Kecmanovic or Alexander Bublik.

Possible heavyweight clash

Nadal could face a semifinal against top-ranked Novak Djokovic, who has been trying to regain his best form after a slow start to the season.

A three-time winner in Madrid, Djokovic was coming off a runner-up finish in Serbia, where he won three three-set matches before losing the final to Andrey Rublev.

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His first match in Madrid will be against either Gael Monfils or Carlos Gimeno Valero.

Young gun

Another home-crowd favorite in Madrid will be young sensation Carlos Alcaraz, who made it to No. 9 in the world after titles in Rio de Janeiro, Miami and Barcelona.

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The 18-year-old, touted by many as Nadal’s heir, could face his idol in the quarterfinals. He lost to Nadal in the tournament’s second round last year.

Murray v Thiem

Former world No. 1 Andy Murray, a two-time winner in Madrid, will be back at the clay-court tournament for the first time since 2017.

He will face a marquee first-round match against former world No. 3 Dominic Thiem, a two-time finalist in the Spanish capital.

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Thiem has been recovering from a wrist injury that sidelined him for eight months.

The 34-year-old Murray had earlier said he would skip the clay season but ended up accepting the wildcard invitation to play in Spain.