Rafael Nadal says the unthinkable about Alex de Minaur at Barcelona Open

Rafael Nadal has all but accepted he will be playing his final match at the Madrid Open when he walks out to face Alex de Minaur.

The 22-time grand slam champ made the staggering comment after his crushing, tournament-opening win over 16-year-old Darwin Blanch on Friday morning (AEST).

Nadal breezed to a 6-1 6-0 victory over the American wildcard to reach the second round as he began his farewell appearance in the Spanish capital.

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The 37-year-old said this week he was not fully fit but still demolished Blanch in one hour and three minutes as he continues his comeback from injury.

He made his first competitive appearance since January at the Barcelona Open last week, where he was defeated in the second round by Aussie de Minaur. That win saw the 25-year-old become the only Australian to beat Nadal on a clay court.

The world No. 11 has been in red hot form the past six months and Nadal has clearly been paying attention, raising a white flag before they have even stepped out on court.

“I would be totally surprised if I beat Alex de Minaur on Saturday,” he said.

“At the moment, win or lose isn’t the most important. One more win or two won’t change anything about my career.

“I’m not here in Madrid aspiring to win the title. Saturday is just an opportunity to understand where I am. In Barcelona against him I played well for one set”.

For now, the Spaniard is simply trying to discover some form and fitness ahead of Rome and then the French Open, where he is the record 14-time winner.

He was less defeatist when speaking to other reporters.

“Last week it couldn’t be,” said Nadal, who lost 7-5, 6-1 to the Australian in Barcelona on April 18.

“This week will surely be very difficult. I’m going to have the opportunity to play, which is almost a gift, so I’m happy to get on the court again.

“I will try to be competitive, as much as I can — he is a difficult player playing at a very high level.”

Nadal’s dour comments reflect the attitude that father time has finally caught up with Nadal.

The King of Clay still hasn’t officially said 2024 will be his final trip on the ATP Tour.

“For me it has always been a pleasure to play in front of you all,” Nadal said after his match.

“The support I’ve received here since the first time I played is hard to compare to anywhere else, so I can only say thank you.”

Despite the ease of his victory, Nadal said it did not mean anything in terms of his prospects of competing at his beloved Roland Garros.

“I’m not a results based guy, I’m a realist about what happens, I was playing against a player with good potential but who makes huge amounts of errors,” he said.

“It doesn’t change my perspective on Paris and it will not change here, I’ll make a decision after Rome.” Nadal broke in the second game against the overpowered and initially overawed American, ranked 1,028th in the world.

Blanch got on the board in the fourth game but Nadal broke again in the sixth after the youngster drove a forehand into the net.

Blanch saved two break points at the start of the second set but Nadal converted the third to take further control.

The merciless tennis great broke again after an entertaining rally for a 3-0 lead and once more when Blanch went long to make it 5-0.

Nadal served it out, triumphing on his second match point with a powerful serve that Blanch could not control to set up the de Minaur rematch, scheduled for Saturday morning (AEST).

— with AFP

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