French Open the moment to give everything: Nadal

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BARCELONA
Rafael Nadal said the upcoming French Open will be the moment to “give everything and die” on the court after his comeback from injury in Barcelona was curtailed by Alex de Minaur on Wednesday.
The 22-time Grand Slam title winner, back playing this week after three months on the sidelines, battled well but eventually crumbled 7-5, 6-1 against the world number 11 from Australia in the second round.
Nadal, 37, who missed virtually all of the 2023 season, is hoping to compete at the French Open in May where he is the record 14-time champion.
The Spaniard said the clash with De Minaur was not the moment he was saving himself for, instead targeting his Roland Garros return as the time to go for broke in what he expects will be the last year of his career.
“On a personal level, for what is to come, the 6-1 in the second set is what had to happen today,” said Nadal, who explained there were bigger challenges ahead.
“It wasn’t today that I had to give everything and die, I have to give myself the chance to do that in a few weeks, or at least try to,” Nadal told reporters.
“I will try to take a step further in Madrid, then another one in Rome and, in Paris… there is the moment to do it, whatever happens, there is no better place to.”
Nadal said the key to being able to triumph at Roland Garros was continuing to build in the weeks ahead.
“(I need to be) getting the weeks of experience, of matches, and feeling more comfortable with everything,” continued Nadal.
“Today I felt more comfortable than yesterday … I have to be realistic, today I cannot have a game that goes for two and a half hours, or three.”
The Spaniard, who has won the Barcelona clay-court title on 12 occasions, eased past Flavio Cobolli on Tuesday in his first ATP Tour match since January.
However he came up short against De Minaur, who has now won his last two clashes against the former world number one.
Despite showing flashes of his supreme quality on the court named after him, Nadal was defeated in what he said would “realistically” be his final appearance at the tournament.
De Minaur broke in the first game and tested Nadal with a series of brilliant drop shots which Nadal could not reach.
However Nadal hit back with a break of his own in the sixth game and consolidated with a fizzing backhand for a 4-3 lead.
De Minaur broke to love to take a 6-5 lead as Nadal went wide and sealed the first set when the Spaniard pushed a shot into the net, winning the final 10 points as Nadal started to struggle.
The 25-year-old Australian dominated the second set, breaking three times and wrapping it up when Nadal went long.
“I’m sad because nobody wants Rafa to stop playing,” said De Minaur.
“I never thought I’d get a win over Rafa on clay, it’s something I’ll be able to say when I finish my career.”
Earlier Norway’s three-time Grand Slam finalist Casper Ruud came out on top in an entertaining 6-3, 6-4 match with Alexandre Muller to reach the third round.
The 25-year-old Norwegian, runner up at the Monte Carlo Masters last week, was broken twice in the first set and allowed Muller to save 10 of 14 break points. Despite his sloppiness Ruud still took the set.
The third seed looked to have sealed the match when he broke his French journeyman opponent in the third game of the second set.
However, the world number six gave up four break points while serving for the match to allow 27-year-old Muller back in at 5-4.
Ruud, though, was more clinical in the next game, breaking Muller to progress with his 25th victory in 2024 and will face Jordan Thompson in the next round.
“This year is much better than last year, I’m having a good year,” said Ruud, who defeated world number one Novak Djokovic last week.
Monte Carlo Masters winner Stefanos Tsitsipas dispatched Sebastian Ofner in straight sets with a 6-4, 7-5 victory.