Nadal crashes out of Barcelona Open second round. GETTY IMAGES

The 22-time Grand Slam champion was beaten 7-5, 6-1 by Australia's Alex de Miñaur on Wednesday. The Spaniard had beaten Italy's Flavio Cobolli 6-2, 6-3 in Brisbane last Tuesday on his return to competition three months after suffering an injury.

Rafa Nadal, who returned to competition after more than three months out of action with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Flavio Cobolli on Tuesday, couldn't overcome a 7-5, 6-1 loss to fourth seed Alex de Miñaur, ranked 11th in the world, at the Barcelona Open on Wednesday. 

The 22-time Grand Slam winner put up a good fight but ultimately felt the lack of competitive rhythm against the Australian, who almost made Nadal's life miserable in the first set but couldn't keep up in the second. "I managed to beat Rafa on clay. I never thought I could do that in my career," said De Miñaur after the match.

Nadal made his comeback from injury in Brisbane on Tuesday, beating Italian Flavio Cobolli 6-2, 6-3. But he admitted he was not the favourite against the Australian.

Nadal and De Miñaur greet each other at the end of their match in Barcelona. GETTY IMAGES
Nadal and De Miñaur greet each other at the end of their match in Barcelona. GETTY IMAGES

"The match against De Miñaur will have a pace that I don't know if I can keep up with, but we'll try," Nadal said on Tuesday after lowering his expectations. The Spaniard has won the Barcelona Open 12 times. But he knew that his physical condition and rhythm were not up to the challenge.

The Spaniard, who has dropped to 644 in the world rankings, watched his opponent break his first game, but at 3-2 down, the Balearic responded by breaking back to level at 3-3. The Australian, seeded fourth in the tournament, reeled off eight straight points to take the set 7-5. That was the end of Nadal's comeback bid. He couldn't make it through the second set and was beaten.

In the second set, De Miñaur brought an intensity to his game that Nadal couldn't match. "The game plan was to be aggressive and try to move Rafa as much as possible." De Miñaur said. The Australian broke Nadal's serve in the third game to take a 2-1 lead. He then served out the match to make it 3-1.

Nadal bids farewell after losing in Barcelona. GETTY IMAGES
Nadal bids farewell after losing in Barcelona. GETTY IMAGES

The Spaniard struggled to keep up with the pace of the Australian's attack and broke his opponent's serve again. He saved three break points before De Miñaur raced to a 4-1 lead and served out the set 5-1. Nadal will continue his preparations for Roland Garros at the Madrid Masters 1000 next week. However, it remains to be seen how he feels after missing almost the entire 2023 season.

He is still aiming to return to the French Open in May, where he has won 14 times in what could be his final season. De Miñaur will be looking to repeat his victory over the former world number one, whom he has now beaten twice in their last two meetings. 

It was a much tougher challenge and despite showing flashes of his best on the court that bears his name, Nadal fell short in what he said would be his "last appearance in the tournament."