Rafael Nadal marked his singles comeback after being out injured for nearly a year with a convincing 7-5 6-1 victory over Austrian former world number three Dominic Thiem in the Brisbane International first round.
The 22-times grand slam champion had arthroscopic surgery last June after injuring his left hip flexor during his second round defeat by Mackenzie McDonald at the Australian Open in early 2023.
Nadal returned to competitive tennis in the new season on Sunday and crashed to a doubles defeat while partnering retired veteran Marc Lopez but showed glimpses of his top form ahead of the first grand slam of the season.
The 37-year-old looked razor sharp again during his latest meeting with qualifier Thiem in a rematch of their 2018 and 2019 French Open finals which he won, as he ramped up the pressure and claimed the opening set with a break.
Roared on by fans inside a heaving Pat Rafter Arena, Nadal grabbed an early break in the second set with a superb backhand pass and barely looked back as he racked up a 5-1 lead before closing out the match on serve.
Relive all the action from the Brisbane International below
Rafael Nadal vs Dominic Thiem LIVE: Latest score as Spaniard makes tennis comeback
Rafael Nadal returns to winning ways after after almost 12 months out
GAME, SET, MATCH! Nadal wraps up emphatic 7-5 6-1 victory on return against Thiem
SET! Nadal takes first set 7-5 on return to lead against Thiem
Emma Raducana beats Gabriela Ruse on return from injury after eight months out
Rafael Nadal makes impressive winning return in Brisbane after ‘toughest year’
11:33 , Ben Fleming
The 22-time grand slam champion had not played since damaging his hip during a second-round match at the 2023 Australian Open.
But, with this year’s Melbourne major on the horizon, he gave a timely reminder of his talents with a box-office performance en route to an impressive 7-5 6-1 success in an hour and 29 minutes.
Nadal’s second-round opponent revealed
11:22 , Ben Fleming
Moments after levelling the match, Aslan Karatsev has been forced to retire having sustained what appears to be a knee injury. That means that wildcard Jason Kubler prevails and will go on to face Nadal in the second round tomorrow.
What an opportunity for the Australian.
The full reflections from Rafa after the win
11:17 , Ben Fleming
"Today is an emotional and important day" 🙏
Rafael Nadal reflects on his winning return to competitive tennis after 'one of the toughest years of his career' 🙌 pic.twitter.com/lwMKg9Bs9P
— Sky Sports Tennis (@SkySportsTennis) January 2, 2024
Back like he never left
11:11 , Ben Fleming
Next up for Nadal
11:04 , Ben Fleming
The Spaniard will be back in action tomorrow, although his opponent is not confirmed yet. He will play the winner of World No.35 Aslan Karatsev vs Australia’s Jason Kubler.
That game is currently in its third set, with Karatsev bouncing back after losing the first set.
Emotional Emma Raducanu celebrates winning return to tennis after ‘difficult’ injury layoff
11:00 , Ben Fleming
On the topic of winning returns, there was an emotional victory for Britain’s Emma Raducanu, who clinched a gutsy three-set win over Elena-Gabriela Ruse in the first round of the ASB Classic in Auckland.
The former British No 1, who was playing her first match since April following operations on both her wrists and one ankle, held off a fightback from the Romanian qualifier to progress 6-3 4-6 7-5.
Her preparations for the upcoming Australian Open will continue with a tough last-16 tie against second seed Elina Svitolina.
The winning moment
10:56 , Ben Fleming
It was a comprehensive win in that second set. Here’s the winning point for the Spaniard:
Rafa is back.
Rafael Nadal makes winning return as he beats Dominic Thiem in straight sets at Brisbane International 🔥🔥pic.twitter.com/amZi7HNBJu
— Sky Sports (@SkySports) January 2, 2024
Nadal speaking after his win
10:47 , Ben Fleming
“Today is an emotional and important day after one of the toughest years of my tennis career. I played at a very positive level for my first day [back] and that will make me, my team and my family feel proud - they have been there every single day during the last year.
“The first set was very equal with both of us serving well. Then I was able to grab that break at 6-5 so that made a difference. I know Dominic has been going through some hard times with injuries too so I’m happy to see him back on court and I wish him all the very best for the season.
“I missed being healthy, feeling myself competitive and playing in front of full crowds like this. I can’t thank enough everyone.”
Nadal 7-5 6-1 Thiem
10:43 , Ben Fleming
Thiem looked good in that first set but fell away significantly in that second set as errors crept into his game. Rafa, meanwhile, looked imperious on his serve and took the opportunities that were presented to him in a clinical fashion.
GAME, SET, MATCH! Nadal 7-5 6-1 Thiem
10:39 , Ben Fleming
Another ball flies long for Thiem as Nadal takes the opening point of this must-win game for Thiem. And it’s a poor shot again from the Austrian, netting his return to Rafa’s second serve to move the Spaniard 30-0 up.
A first double fault of the game from Nadal might give Thiem a slight opening but it’s just the sixth point he’s lost on serve and is quickly followed by a superb serve out wide to bring up two match points.
He only needs one! Thiem is sent sprawling all over the court and Nadal simply has to dink the ball over the net to conclude a resounding second set and claim victory on his return after a year-long layoff.
Remarkable tennis from the Spaniard!
*Nadal 7-5 5-1 Thiem
10:35 , Ben Fleming
Another pair of unforced error from Thiem sees the game finely poised at 30-30 on the Austrian’s serve. And an amazing return from Nadal follows which cramps Thiem up for room and brings up another chance for the Spaniard to break...
And he takes it! Not much emotion from Rafa but he moves into a commanding position after another unforced error from Thiem.
Nadal now serving for the match.
Nadal 7-5 4-1 Thiem*
10:29 , Ben Fleming
The first testing moment for Nadal, now, on serve as Thiem moves 30-15 up. A slight opening with Nadal stranded on the left side of the court but Thiem finds the net with an attempted down-the-line backhand winner.
Could that be costly? Indeed, it is as Nadal recovers well to hold serve and move just two games away from his first victory in a year.
*Nadal 7-5 3-1 Thiem
10:25 , Ben Fleming
The Austrian is on the board at last in this second set as a loose game from Nadal finally arrives. We expected a lot more of that in this match but it’s been a steller display so far from the Spaniard.
Nadal 7-5 3-0 Thiem*
10:20 , Ben Fleming
Thiem looking a bit perplexed with himself after another return flies long. Nadal races into a 40-0 lead on serve and consolidates the break in emphatic style as Thiem’s slice finds the net.
Five games in a row now for the returning Spaniard who is racing to the finish line now.
*Nadal 7-5 2-0 Thiem
10:17 , Ben Fleming
Thiem’s third double fault of the game gives Nadal a 15-30 lead but it’s a tidy response from the Austrian to level it up at 30-30 with a booming first serve.
Well, now here’s a chance as Thiem goes long with an unforced error. An early break-point opportunity for Nadal...and taken in superb style! Thiem comes forward to the net but a whipping cross-court backhand evades the outstretched racquet of Thiem and Nadal strikes early to take a 2-0 lead in this second set.
Nadal 7-5 1-0 Thiem*
10:12 , Ben Fleming
A few mistakes starting to creep into Thiem’s game - his team will want to ensure that his head doesn’t drop after losing that first set just then. It’s a comfortable start for Nadal in this second set, though, as he holds to love to move 1-0 up.
Nadal 7-5 Thiem
10:05 , Ben Fleming
Another chance for Nadal as the backhand forces Thiem wide but again the World No. 98 holds firm to save another break point with a superb cross-court winner after a serve out wide.
But a double fault follows! The worst possible time and Nadal now has a third set point...saved again, though. Great courage to serve down the line there after his double fault just moments ago.
Chance number four coming up now for Nadal as the Spaniard fires a superb pass with Thiem at the net and this time he takes it as Thiem pushes his shot long. Superb from Nadal who claims his first set on return from injury!
Nadal 6-5 Thiem*
10:01 , Ben Fleming
Now, is this the chance?! A crisp, flat backhand is arrowed into the corner as Nadal takes a 0-30 lead on Thiem’s serve for the first time this match.
A poor return of Nadal follows as a wry smile appears on the Spaniard’s face. It’s followed up superbly by Thiem who crunches a whipping forehand winner past Nadal to get back to 30-30.
But what a point to follow! The Spaniard is motoring and backpedalling all over the court and brings up his first break point of the game as Thiem finds the net. A chance to claim the first set...but not to be. A half chance as Thiem comes forward to the net but Nadal can’t execute the pass and it’s deuce.
A crucial few minutes in this match.
Nadal 6-5 Thiem*
09:55 , Ben Fleming
Another comfortable hold of serve for Nadal as the Spaniard rips a forehand down the line to claim his sixth game of the first set. Thiem now looks to hold serve, too, and send us to a first-set tie-break.
*Nadal 5-5 Thiem
09:51 , Ben Fleming
Thiem has certainly not been overawed by his opponent across the court at any point so far today. Some more sublime Tennis from the Austrian moves him 40-0 up and another pin-point forehand down the line brings him back level with Nadal at 5-5.
Nadal 4-4 Thiem*
09:47 , Ben Fleming
A big winner from Thiem to start the game but a great response from Nadal and the first real signs of emotion as he pumps his first after his deft backhand volley levels it up at 15-15.
That will get the crowd going! The Spaniard opens up his body and puts every bit of energy into a ripping forehand which flies down the line and past Thiem. This match is really starting to crank up now.
Thiem almost clocks Nadal with a passing effort as he pulls it back to 40-30 but an ace from Nadal means we still haven’t reached deuce yet in this first set.
*Nadal 4-4 Thiem
09:42 , Ben Fleming
Not much Nadal can do there as Thiem serves out wide before thundering a vicious forehand into the opposite corner. The Spaniard is chasing dust once again as Thiem smashes a volley past the Spaniard to move 40-15 up in this game.
Nadal goes long with his second-serve return and that’s the game. All level at 4-4.
Nadal 4-3 Thiem*
09:38 , Ben Fleming
Some errors follow from Thiem on the background, allowing Nadal to race through his service game to love. Precious few opportunities to break have presented themselves to either player so far this set and we are closing in on a tie-break to decide this first set.
*Nadal 3-3 Thiem
09:33 , Ben Fleming
It’s looking good for Thiem, too, on serve as he moves 40-15 after the first real unforced error from Nadal so far in this match sees a good opportunity on his forehand fly long and out of court.
It’s into the net with the next return of serve as Thiem levels it up at 3-3.
Nadal 3-2 Thiem*
09:28 , Ben Fleming
It’s all looking very routine for Nadal on serve so far. Some great hands get the better of his opponent up at the net as he edges ahead again once more in this first set.
*Nadal 2-2 Thiem
09:24 , Ben Fleming
A nice touch from Thiem around the net, now, as he executes a drop shot to perfection to leave Nadal stranded on the baseline.
40-15 up now for Thiem on serve but it’s wonderful movement from Nadal on return! Great defensive work from the Spaniard and his whipping cross-court forehand wrongfoots Nadal and brings it back to 40-30.
Thiem sees it out, though, at the net to take the game but more pleasing signs for Nadal fans, without a doubt.
Nadal 2-1 Thiem*
09:19 , Ben Fleming
It’s a fast, responsive court here in Brisbane which appears to be helping Nadal in these early stages as he goes 30-0 up.
Now he’s up to the net and that’s a superb touch! It didn’t look like Nadal would get there but it’s a deft flick over the net, sending Thiem the wrong way and claiming the point. He serves out to make it eight from eight on service so far.
A strong start for the Spaniard.
*Nadal 1-1 Thiem
09:15 , Ben Fleming
Not a bad start, either, for Thiem on serve as a lovely forehand sees him take an early 30-0 lead on service but he has no response to a thunderous Nadal forehand which brings it back to 30-15.
A good response, though, from the Austrian who fires down two big serves to level things up.
Nadal 1-0 Thiem*
09:11 , Ben Fleming
Well, that’s not a bad start! A thunderous flat forehand down the line penetrates the court and leaves Thiem helpless as Nadal claims the first point of the match.
Before long, he races into a 40-0 lead and as Thiem’s return goes long, it’s a comfortable and assured hold of serve to kick things off.
*Nadal 0-0 Thiem
09:09 , Ben Fleming
Rafa will serve first in this match and, with the warm-ups down, we are ready to get started in Brisbane...
Nadal vs Thiem
09:05 , Ben Fleming
Thiem should be the sharper of the two, not only because of Nadal’s lay-off but because he has had to come through two rounds of qualifying to reach this point. The Austrian saved matched points against Australia’s James McCabe before beating Giulio Zeppieri to reach the first round proper.
Nadal vs Thiem
09:01 , Ben Fleming
I’m careful to say return to singles action because, technically, Australia has already seen the Spaniard back in action a few days ago in the doubles tournament.
Nadal played alongside fellow countryman Marc Lopez but lost in straight sets to the Australian duo of Max Purcell and Jordan Thompson.
But here he comes now, returning to singles action as the crowd cheers him onto the court.
Next up for Raducanu
08:57 , Ben Fleming
There’s certainly no soft touch for Raducanu on her return to competition.
The Brit is into the second round but faces a difficult clash against No.2 seed and last year’s Wimbledon semi-finalist Elina Svitolina after the Ukrainian came through her clash against Caroline Wozniacki.
A tough ask but that’s for another day. Right now, we are back in Brisbane and awaiting the return of Rafa Nadal to singles action.
Raducana speaking after her win in Auckland
08:55 , Ben Fleming
“Thank you to everyone for coming out and staying late - I really appreciate the support. It was a match with ups and downs; it’s always difficult playing a friend but I love being back in Auckland and I’m having a blast so far.
“It’s difficult after having such a long hiatus but I’m grateful to be healthy and able to move my body; not bed-ridden or in a wheelchair so it’s pretty amazing to just be out here and playing. I’m just really happy to be back on tour and I can’t wait to start this season and carry on hopefully injury-free and healthy.”
Game, set match Raducanu!
08:50 , Ben Fleming
Ruse 3-6 6-4 5-7 Raducanu
But over in Auckland, it’s victory for Raducana who wins for her first time back on the court in eight months! The Brit was 0-30 down on serve in that final game but a great comeback in that game saw her finally get over the line after more than two hours on court.
Nadal vs Thiem head-to-head
08:45 , Ben Fleming
The Spaniard is still waiting to take the court in Brisbane but he’ll have a tough time today against Dominic Thiem, who himself has had his well-documented issues with injury. The pair have faced each other 15 times on the ATP circuit with the Spaniard leading 9-6.
The Austrian has, however, won both their last two meetings - at the 2020 ATP Finals in Turin and at the quarterfinals in the 2020 Australian Open.
Another break for Raducanu
08:41 , Ben Fleming
Ruse 3-6 6-4 5-6 Raducanu*
What a response! Ruse has produced some thunderous tennis in these last few games but Raducana has stood firm and backed her ability. Some sturdy defence forces mistakes from Ruse and, this time, Raducana capitalises to claim yet another break.
Can she serve out to win the match at the third time of asking now?
Two chances go begging for Raducanu
08:37 , Ben Fleming
Ruse 3-6 6-4 5-5 Raducanu*
The first chance to serve out for the match went begging for Raducanu but she has another chance here on serve.
At 30-30, Ruse thunders a forehand winner across the court and now she has another break point to tie up the match...and the Romanian does!
Level at 5-5 from 5-2 down - work to do for Raducanu.
Andy Murray beaten by Grigor Dimitrov in battle at Brisbane International
08:28 , Ben Fleming
The unseeded Scot was on course to advance after taking the opening set of a tense battle between two former tournament champions on Pat Rafter Arena.
But Dimitrov hit back to progress 4-6 7-5 6-2 and inflict another early exit on Murray following his second-round victory when the pair met at last year’s US Open.
Also making a return
08:24 , Ben Fleming
It’s also a huge day for Emma Raducanu as the Brit makes her return to competition after almost eight months out.
The former US Open champion is currently in action against World No. 134 Gabriela Ruse and has just taken a huge step towards victory by securing a double break in the third and decisive set.
She won the first set 6-3 before Ruse levelled it up but the 21-year-old now leads 5-2 in the third and is serving for the match....
The season of comebacks
08:17 , Ben Fleming
This week it’s not just Nadal making his comeback to competitive tennis. Most notably in the woman’s game, former World No.1 Noami Osaka made a winning return to tennis as she beat Germany’s Tamara Korpatsch 6-3 7-6 in the first round of the Brisbane International.
The former world number one has not played since withdrawing from the Pan Pacific Trophy with a knee injury in September 2021. She became a mother for the first time in July.
Four-time grand slam champion Osaka returned to the court in style, breaking Korpatsch to love in the first game and did not face a break point as she clinched the first set in 39 minutes.
Osaka looked set for a routine victory when she broke for a 5-3 lead in the second set, but Korpatsch fought back to take it into a tie-break – Osaka winning 11-9 on her third match point.
Nadal vs Thiem LIVE: Latest updates as Spaniard makes tennis comeback
08:14 , Ben Fleming
More from Nadal:
“It’s obvious it’s a high percentage that it’s going to be my last time playing in Australia. But if I’m here next year, don’t tell me, ‘you said it’s going to be your last season’ because I didn’t say it,” said Nadal, a two-time winner of the Australian Open men’s singles title.
“You never know what’s going on, you know? I can’t predict how I’m going to be in the next six months. I can’t predict if my body will allow me to enjoy tennis as much as I enjoyed the past 20 years.”
Nadal vs Thiem LIVE: Latest updates as Spaniard makes tennis comeback
08:02 , Jamie Braidwood
What has Nadal said ahead of his comeback?
“I am feeling good. I can’t complain. I’m feeling much better today than what I expected a month ago.
“For me, it’s impossible to think about winning tournaments. But what’s really possible is to try to enjoy the comeback to the courts. I don’t expect much. Honestly, the only thing that I expect is to be able to go on court, to feel competitive and to give my best.
“It’s going to be a tough process at the beginning. At the end, it’s one year without being on the tennis court and I just have been practising for the last month in a very good intensity. I don’t say that nothing is impossible, but just to be here is a victory.”
What time is Rafael Nadal vs Dominic Thiem?
08:01 , Jamie Braidwood
The match is expected to start at around 8:30am GMT on Tuesday 2 January.
Nadal vs Thiem LIVE: Latest updates as Spaniard makes tennis comeback
08:00 , Jamie Braidwood
Rafael Nadal makes his long-awaited return to singles action this morning as the 22-time grand slam champion takes on old rival Dominic Thiem in the opening round of the Brisbane International in Australia.
Nadal has been out since suffering a hip injury at the Australian Open last January - almost a year ago - and underwent surgery in June. The 37-year-old returned to doubles action on Sunday, alongside Marc Lopez, but lost 6-4 6-4 to the Australian duo of Max Purcell and Jordan Thompson.
But now the Spaniard switches his attention to the singles in what is a mouthwatering clash with 2020 US Open champion Thiem, who Nadal beat in the 2017 and 2018 French Open finals.
Nadal had previously said he expected to bring the curtains down on his glittering but injury-plagued career in 2024, but in a press conference ahead of his comeback at the Brisbane International he left the door ajar.
"The problem about saying it’s going to be my last season is that I can’t predict what’s going on 100 per cent in the future. That’s the thing," Nadal said. "That’s why I say probably."
Follow live updates from the Brisbane International below as Nadal makes his comeback