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PARIS: Rafael Nadal will make his return to ATP competition for the first time since January when he plays Flavio Cobolli in the Barcelona Open next week.

The 22-time Grand Slam champion has played just once, in an exhibition match, since he felt a hip injury flare-up during his quarter-final defeat by Jordan Thompson in the Brisbane Open.

Nadal, who turns 38 in June, will be looking for a problem-free return as he builds towards seeking a record-extending 15th French Open title – it runs from May 20 to June 9.

The tournament has also been boosted by the return of Nadal’s compatriot Carlos Alcaraz, the world No.3, who withdrew from this week’s Monte Carlo Masters due to a right arm injury.

Unlike Nadal, who has a wild card invite, the two-time defending Barcelona champion gets a first round bye due to being seeded.

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Nadal was smiling when he appeared at Saturday’s press conference alongside the organisers and seeing his name in the draw.

Nadal has never played 63rd ranked Cobolli, 16 years his junior. If he gets past him, he will face the tougher task of Australian Alex De Minaur in the second round.

There is the prospect of a tantalising semi-final meeting with Alcaraz on the centre court which now bears Nadal’s name following his 12 victories in the tournament.

A video was released early afternoon showing Nadal training, seemingly moving with ease and inflicting a 6-1 thrashing on Russia’s Andrey Rublev.

Nadal missed virtually all of the 2023 season through injury and has only played at the Brisbane International this season.

The injury in Brisbane prompted his withdrawal from the Australian Open as well as Doha and Indian Wells, where he had first intended to make his comeback.

His one appearance since Brisbane came in an exhibition match against Alcaraz in Las Vegas in March where observers noted some discomfort in his back.

With this potentially Nadal’s last year on tour, he will be desperate not to miss any more clay court preparation time for the French Open.

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