Nadal returns to action in Barcelona "eager to continue." GETTY IMAGES

Rafael Nadal has expressed his excitement at returning to the court after an absence since January, pointing out he will play in next week's Barcelona Open, a tournament he has won 12 times.

The 22-time Grand Slam champion has only played in one exhibition match, the Netflix Slam against Carlos Alcaraz, since suffering a hip injury in his quarter-final loss to Jordan Thompson in Brisbane just before the Australian Open.

"I am happy to be here, of course, Barcelona is a place that has brought me a lot of joy and where I have spent periods of my life. In the last two years I've had very few days on tour, so it's a pleasure to spend days here, to see the people, to train with the players," Nadal said at the draw ceremony on Saturday.

In his opening match, Nadal will face Italian Flavio Cobolli of Italy, currently ranked 63rd in the world. Nadal, who turns 38 in June, is aiming for a smooth comeback as he moves closer to his goal of an unprecedented 15th French Open title. "I want to keep going," Nadal concluded.

Carlos Alcaraz, who won the title in Barcelona in 2022 and 2023, will begin his clay-court season after missing the Monte-Carlo Masters with a right arm injury.

Alcaraz, who prefers Olympic gold to winning Roland Garros, is currently ranked third in the world and and has a first-round bye as the top seed. The 2023 Wimbledon champion will then face the winner of the match between China's Zhang Zhizhen and France's Luca Van Assche in the following round.

Regardless of whether Nadal and Alcaraz reach the semi-finals, they will meet again on Centre Court, which now bears Nadal's name, in a match with a lot of expectation after Alcaraz won the Netflix Slam 12-14 in the last set.