Tennis fans in frenzy after Rafa Nadal returns with a bang against Carlos Alcaraz

The signs are extremely encouraging for Nadal in what could be his final year in tennis.

Rafa Nadal has delighted the tennis world after returning to the court against fellow Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz in style. Injuries have restricted the 22-time grand slam champion to just 12 official matches since the 2022 US Open, with Nadal missing all of 2023 after suffering a hip flexor injury at last year's Australian Open that required surgery.

Nadal was also forced to withdraw from this year's Australian Open, sparking major concerns for his future in the sport. It also put his hopes for a record-extending 15th French Open title in serious doubt. But the 37-year-old has given fans renewed hope of seeing him at Roland Garros in May after appearing injury-free and showing flashes of brilliance in the 3-6, 6-4 (14-12) loss to Alcaraz in the Netflix Slam exhibition match.

Pictured here, tennis stars Rafa Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz share an embrace after their match.
Tennis fans were thrilled to see Rafa Nadal back on court and playing some unbelievable shots against Carlos Alcaraz. Pic: Getty/Tennis TV

Playing in front of a a sellout crowd of 9,489 in Las Vegas, the veteran Spaniard took the first set after an impressive display against his young compatriot. Alcaraz - playing after an ankle injury he suffered at the Rio Open in February - took out the second set, before clinching the win in a champions super tiebreak.

Nadal pulled several extraordinary shots out of his massive box of tricks to delight fans. One such winner came when the veteran had Alcaraz stretching for a ball that he tried to lob over Nadal at the net. The 37-year-old looked to be caught out of position but spun and executed one of his trademark 'skyhook' volleys to draw massive cheers from the crowd.

The 22-time grand slam winner saved arguably his best shot when he staved off match point with an outrageous forehand winner. Alcaraz hit a pin-point forehand into the back corner of Nadal's court, with the 37-year-old sending it back with interest after a stunning forehand pass down the line. Fans couldn't get enough of the epic drama and the sight of Nadal back on court.

Rafa Nadal return leaves tennis world in awe

Rafa Nadal preparing to play at Indian Wells

Nadal has admitted he's not sure what the future holds for this year's French Open and beyond, amid suggestions 2024 could be his final year in the sport. The match against Alcaraz provided a good test for Nadal ahead of the Indian Wells hard-court tournament kicking off this week - in what will be Nadal's first official match since the 2023 Australian Open.

"It was great. I was supposed to be here last year (but) unfortunately due to some issues, I was not able to be here," Nadal said after the match. "I enjoyed a lot. Congratulations to Carlos for a great match. And on a personal level, yeah great. I was not able to play a lot for the last two years so to play here with Carlos in front of an amazing crowd in Las Vegas means a lot to me. Super happy."

Seen here, Rafa Nadal playing in a Las Vegas exhibition match against Carlos Alcaraz.
Rafa Nadal wowed the sellout crowd in Las Vegas with some exquisite shots against Carlos Alcaraz. Pic: Getty

Nadal took the first set 6-3 after getting an early break but Alcaraz gradually played his way into the contest and got on top of his tennis idol. Alcaraz admitted after the match that it was "really special" to play against Nadal and said the 37-year-old's incredible match point save was a testament to his never-say-die attitude.

"I had a few match points before I got it. He made an unbelievable shot. He never gives up," Alcaraz said. "That’s something that I try to keep for my game, that mentality that he has, finding a solution when things are not going well every time."


Nadal says he's glad he won't have to face Alcaraz too many times throughout the rest of his career but feels proud to have a champion from Spain to cheer on for years to come. "It’s a good thing that as a player I will not face him many times," Nadal joked.

"As a fan, I will enjoy watching him for many years hopefully! He’s a big challenge. It’s completely different generations. In Spain, we should be very, very happy about having someone like Carlos coming. He’s an amazing player. He’s only 20 years old and he’s already won two Slams and a couple of important tournaments."

with agencies

Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.

Yahoo Australia