Rafael Nadal begins first singles match in almost a year

PERTH, Australia – Novak Djokovic led Serbia into the quarterfinals of the United Cup on Tuesday despite struggling with a sore right wrist which required on-court treatment.

The World No. 1 dropped a set in grinding past the Czech Republic’s Jiri Lehecka 6-1, 6-7 (3/7), 6-1 and req uired several visits from the trainer.

He did not take part in the deciding mixed doubles, instead watching from the team bench as Olga Danilovic and Hamad Medjedovic defeated Czech pair Miriam Kolodziejova and Petr Nouza 4-6, 7-6 (7/2), 10-8.

It put Serbia into a last-eigh t clash with Australia on Wednesday.

The result means that defending champions the United States are out, with one more day of play in Perth to go before the event shifts to its weekend finish in Sydney.

“I managed to play through the wrist problem,” 24-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic said of his wrist issue, which comes barely a week ahead of the Australian Open.

“It’s not the first nor th e last time,” he said. “These things happen. I have to manage it and find a solution.

“I finished the m atch, now we’ll see what happens.”

Czech Wimbledon winner Marketa Vondrousova started the tie by defeating Danilovic 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, handing Djokovic a comeback assignment as he took on Lehecka to take it to the deciding doubles.

“It was amazing, I didn’t have luck in singles but thank god we have Novak with us,” Danilovic said after sending Serbia through.

“Hamad and I came back, we fought so hard. I’m happy to get the win and go int o the quarterfinals.”

The 113th-ranked Medjedovic added: “I know how tired Olga was, she gave everything she could, and did it for us.”

Poland will face China in the other Perth quarterfinal on Wednesday.

BRISBANE – Rafael Nadal began his first singles match in almost a year at the Brisbane International Tuesday against Dominic Thiem, kick-starting what could be the Spaniard’s farewell season.

The 37-year-old has not played singles since a second-round loss at the Australian Open last year, undergoing two rounds of hip surgery.

The long lay-off raised fears his career could be over, but Nadal said this week he was always determined to make it back for the 2024 season.

He conceded there was “a high percentage” that it would be his last season, but left the door open to play on should his body hold up.

The 22-time Grand Slam champion made a low-key return on Sunday in a first round doubles match alongside countryman Marc Lopez, which they lost to Australian pair Jordan Thompson and Max Purcell.

However, all the focus this week has been on his singles return after organisers granted him a wildcard, with a full house in Pat Rafter Arena to give him a loud reception when he walked on court.

Nadal will not have it all his own way against Thiem, who reached a career-high world ranking of three before suffering his own injury problems.

The two men have played 15 times, with Nadal winning nine and Thiem six.

However, the Austrian has won their past two encounters at the ATP Tour Finals in 2020 and the Australian Open the same year.

Nadal won both his opening service games to love against former US Open champion Thiem.

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