Rafael Nadal’s Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell comeback ended in the second round on Wednesday at the hands of Alex de Minaur, who won, 7-5, 6-1 on the unseeded icon’s home court.

Playing on Pista Rafael Nadal, De Minaur, seeded fourth in Barcelona, took on the living legend in the midst of what may be the end of his two decades on the ATP tour, and managed a straight-set victory to advance into the third round in one hour and 51 minutes.

Nadal was taking the court for only his second match since January, when a “micro” muscle tear incurred at the Brisbane International forced him to withdraw from the Australian Open. The 22-time Grand Slam champion subsequently sat out scheduled appearances at the BNP Paribas Open and Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, Masters 1000 tournaments he previously won thrice and 11 times, respectively.

The 37-year-old has heavily implied that 2024 will be his final season on tour, and with home events looming in Barcelona and Madrid, the pressure was on the Spaniard to regain his form in time for the clay-court farewell he surely aimed to make this spring.


Entering Barcelona with a protected ranking, Nadal was competing on clay for the first time since 2022 Roland Garros, which he won for his then-record-extending 22nd major victory, which has since been surpassed by Novak Djokovic. Showing few signs of rust against Flavio Cobolli, the 12-time Barcelona champ made quick work of the unseeded Italian to book a second-round clash with De Minaur, who himself is in the midst of a career-best season.

Slightly down from a career-high ranking of No. 9, the world No. 11 has already reached two ATP 500 finals in 2024—winning one in Acapulco—and arrived in Barcelona fresh off his first clay-court Masters 1000 quarterfinal in Monte Carlo, where he dropped just three games against former champion Stan Wawrinka en route to the last eight.

The Aussie is one of only five men to have won more than 20 matches in 2024, and that momentum was on display early against Nadal, who struggled to get on the board as De Minaur won the first two games and threatened to win a third with a chance for a double-break lead.

Nadal soon settled and evened the set at three games apiece, making a move for a break advantage of his own in a tense eighth game. De Minaur saved the break chance turned up the volume from 5-5, winning the final eight points to sweep the set out from under the former world No. 1. The stats bore out for the 25-year-old, who struck twice as many winners (12 to 6) and far fewer errors (19 to 23).

The enthusiastic crowd tried to lift Nadal, supported by longtime coach Carlos Moya, at the start of the second set, only for De Minaur to nab another break to put himself in the proverbial driver’s seat.

A marathon game played out two games later as Nadal fought valiantly to stay within touching distance of the Aussie, who forced three break points over four deuces. Serving to save the third, Nadal found himself outrallied as De Minaur slid into a double-break lead.

De Minaur sped towards the finish line, putting down another love hold to force Nadal to serve to stay in the contest. Getting to match point after a drop shot winner followed by a deep volley, De Minaur clinched the win with one last forehand error from the former champion.

In total, Nadal managed just 11 winners to 42 unforced errors, while De Minaur played the cleaner match with 21 to 26, respectively. Awaiting the Aussie in the third round will be either No. 16 seed Arthur Fils or Daniel Altmaier.