Rafael Nadal returned to professional tennis after a six-month break in spectacular fashion, defeating Pablo Carreno Busta 6-1 6-1 in the second round of the Rome Masters.
Many were uncertain about the Spaniard's level given that he was coming into the match after such a long absence, but Nadal put to rest all such doubts with his flawless performance. And judging by the words of Pablo Andujar, who recently sparred with the 19-time Grand Slam champion at his academy in Mallorca, there should never have been any doubts; Rafael Nadal was at the top of his game even during the lockdown.
Rafael Nadal is always impressive when you are in front of him: Andujar
Andujar spoke about his training session in Mallorca, where he hit with Rafael Nadal for three days at the Rafa Nadal Academy while he was on holiday. The Spaniard was full of praise for his fellow countryman's work ethic.
"I spent four days in Mallorca with my family. There were two days at the beach and two days of training with Rafa. Two days with him is like five normal days," said Andujar.
"At our age, we only do one daily session but it was still nearly three hours. After that, it was basta (enough) for me (laughs)."
Rafael Nadal chose to keep a very low profile during the pandemic, refusing to participate in a single exhibition match after lockdowns were eased in Europe. Most top players took the opportunity to tune up for the eventual restart of the tennis season, but the Spaniard chose to stay home and train at his academy.
However, Pablo Andujar confirmed that Rafael Nadal maintained his famed intensity even in training, and looked in top form to everyone who was present.
"But I had time to see that Rafa was really hitting the ball he wanted very well. Francis Roig and Carlos Moya were on the court every time. There was a lot of rhythm, a lot of exchanges. It was intense," asserted Andujar.
"He is always impressive when you are in front of him. It's strength, power etc. But neither more nor less than before. It is the same, it is thoroughly, 100%."
Due to COVID-19 concerns, Nadal also refused to travel to the United States for the Cincinnati Masters and US Open at Flushing Meadows. But the World No. 2 has now made a winning return to tennis, and looks set to defend his title at the Rome Masters this week.
The Spaniard's ultimate goal would be a record-extending 13th French Open title at Roland Garros later this month, which would be his 20th Grand Slam title - equaling Roger Federer's all-time record of 20.