April 17 (Reuters) – Rafa Nadal’s hopes of winning the Barcelona Open for a 13th time were dashed on Wednesday following a 7-5 6-1 second round defeat by Australian fourth seed Alex de Minaur.

The Spaniard was playing his first tournament since January and had made a winning return on Tuesday with his first round victory over Flavio Cobolli, but the 37-year-old was no match for the in-form De Minaur.

“Alex is a great player. In terms of tennis today, he was in better shape than me,” Nadal said.

“He has really played at a very high level since the beginning of the season. I think he has made a very important step forward in his level of tennis.”

De Minaur began brightly, breaking in the opening game, but Nadal broke back to make it 3-3 before the Australian made the decisive break and held to take the first set, and had little trouble as he strolled to win the second.

“I think about the only thing I might have on Rafa on clay is physicality at this stage of his career,” De Minaur said.

“I decided to try and make the rallies quite physical and long, use my speed to my advantage. It’s never easy against him.”

Nadal, the 22-time Grand Slam champion, managed to win just two points on De Minaur’s serve in the second set.

After being beaten on the court which is named after him, the Spaniard was given a standing ovation as he made his exit.

“At least, how things went, for me I had the chance to say goodbye here on court,” Nadal said.

“That means a lot to me, because I probably felt one week ago that I was not able to play in this event. That would have been painful, so at least I played, I enjoyed the game, and now is the moment to keep going.”

Nadal returned after almost a year’s absence following hip surgery to reach the quarter-finals in Brisbane in January but he was forced into another break after suffering a muscle tear.

The Spaniard’s aim is to arrive in Roland Garros, where he has triumphed a record 14 times, in peak condition.

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