Rafael Nadal returns to competitive action this week at the Madrid Open looking to pick up where he left off following a month out due to a rib injury.
The 35-year-old Spaniard started the season in spectacular fashion with a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open – where he fought back from two sets down to defeat Daniil Medvedev – as well as winning in Melbourne and Acapulco.
Nadal had won his first 20 matches of the year before finally being beaten in the final at Indian Wells by Taylor Fritz, with the world No 4 later revealing that he had been struggling with a stress fracture in one of his ribs.
He missed tournaments in Miami, Monte Carlo and Barcelona because of the injury and Nadal said last week that it would be unlikely that he will be winning a sixth Madrid title due to his lack of preparation.
Nadal, though, is confident that he will be fully fit and ready to play the French Open, which starts on May 22, a tournament he was won a record 13 times but where he lost to Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals last year.
“I have three weeks,” said Nadal, who was guest of honour at Real Madrid's win over Espanyol on Saturday when the Spanish club sealed their 35th La Liga title. “So I trust that the daily training will help me to get ready.
“Here the demand [in high altitude in Madrid] is maximum, but what can be done is going to be done.
“The most important thing is to be healthy, but I think that going to Paris I'm on time. Three weeks are enough to get competitive.”
Nadal will kick-off his Madrid Open campaign against either Miomir Kecmanovic or Alexander Bublik and could face top-ranked Djokovic in the last four.
Another home-crowd favourite in Madrid will be young sensation Carlos Alcaraz, who has risen to No 9 in the world after titles in Rio de Janeiro, Miami and Barcelona.
The 18-year-old, touted by many as Nadal’s heir, could face his idol in the quarter-finals. He lost to Nadal in the tournament’s second round last year.
Former world No 1 Andy Murray, a two-time winner in Madrid, will be back at the clay-court tournament for the first time since 2017. He faces world No 3 Dominic Thiem, who has been recovering from a wrist injury that sidelined him for eight months.