Rafael Nadal excites fans with return to training ahead of French Open

Rafael Nadal has delighted fans by revealing he is back in training ahead of next month's French Open.

The Spaniard was in lethal form at the start of the year, returning from a long-term foot problem to embark on an extraordinary winning run. The streak had reached 20 by the time he tasted defeat for the first time, losing the Indian Wells Masters final to Taylor Fritz.

But there were extenuating circumstances – Nadal had picked up an undiagnosed stress fracture to his rib in the previous match and was clearly in discomfort as he was beaten by the American. Upon returning to Spain, he learned the extent of the problem.

"This is not good news and I did not expect this," said the 21-time Grand Slam champion as he faced another spell on the sidelines. He revealed that he would be out of action for at least four to six weeks, placing his participation in the clay court season into doubt.

The Australian Open champion missed out on the second of the two Sunshine Swing tournaments in Miami, and also withdrew from the Monte-Carlo Masters and Barcelona Open. But he may be back in action soon after showing his fans he was training again.

He posted photos of himself practicing on clay on his social media pages, alongside a triumphant caption announcing that his return is not far away. "Today after four weeks without stepping on a tennis court, first soft training," he wrote.

The timing of the comeback means Nadal has a chance to still get in a decent amount of practice before taking to the courts at Roland Garros next month. He could make his return at the Madrid Open at the start of May, while the Rome Masters will also provide him with a chance to really hit his stride before heading to Paris.

He will hope to win the French Open for a remarkable 14th time, to further underline his dominance on clay. The Spaniard missed out last year after losing in the last four to Novak Djokovic, and will be motivated to exact revenge upon the Serb.

It is also an opportunity for Nadal to extend his lead over his man rivals in terms of Grand Slam successes, with Djokovic and Roger Federer currently one behind his total. The Swiss is out injured and will not be playing in Paris, though Nadal's 2021 conqueror Djokovic is set to take part after Covid restrictions in France were eased earlier this year.

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