Taylor Fritz has issued a warning for tennis legend Rafael Nadal as he prepares to make his tennis comeback. The Spaniard has missed a year of action due to a hip injury and subsequent surgery and he is now set to resume his career at the Brisbane International in January 2024.
The tennis world is bursting with excitement to see the 37-year-old back on the court, and while the upcoming season could be Nadal’s last, it may also be his most challenging. The 22-time Grand Slam champion fell to No. 663 in the rankings in his time away from the game.
As a result, he will not be seeded in any tournaments at the start of his comeback and can face the game’s top players earlier than he is accustomed to. One of Nadal’s biggest rivals Fritz, commented on the prospect of not only playing him again but coming up against the tennis legend in the early stages of tournaments.
“I think that maybe it’s going to be tough. Maybe he might be a little bit rusty,” the American No. 1 said. “I think it’s going to be pretty crazy having him in draws where he’s going to be unseeded. So anybody can play Rafa in the first round, so it’s going to be pretty crazy.
“He’s Rafa, so I think even if he’s going to be maybe a little rusty coming back or it takes some time, he’s still going to be playing really well and he’s still going to be tough for a lot of guys to play early and draws as well just because of him being unseeded.” Fritz and Nadal last played one another in 2022, and the 26-year-old won two of the three encounters.
In a match where both players battled injury, the World No. 10 overcame the former World No. 1 6-3, 7-6 (7/5) to win the Indian Wells Masters, the biggest title of his career. Several months later the pair faced one another in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. Nadal produced another heroic performance to prevail in five sets despite suffering an injured abdominal muscle.
It took four hours and 20 minutes for Nadal to produce an incredible 3-6, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6(10-4) win. He would play no further part in the event as he withdrew before his semifinal with Nick Kyrgios, which allowed the Australian a free pass to the final. Fritz exacted some revenge in the round-robin stage of the ATP Finals at the end of the 2022 season in Turin.
The American’s ruthless performance and excellent serve overpowered Nadal and claimed a 7-6 (7/3), 6-1 win. In total, the pair have played each other four times and have two victories each. While outlining the challenges that lie ahead for both Nadal and his opponents during his comeback, Fritz is happy to see an icon of the game returning to action.
“I mean, I expected that, it’s Rafa,” he added. “I don’t think that he was ever going to just retire and not give it another go, so I definitely, after the amount of time he’s had off, I expected him to come back to start the year. So I think that it’s good news for tennis as a whole.”