BARCELONA: Tennis superstar Rafael Nadal said Monday returning to action at the Barcelona Open is a “gift” and he wants to enjoy every moment of what he expects to be the last year of his career.

The 22-time Grand Slam winner has not played an ATP Tour match since January, when he felt a hip injury flare up at the Brisbane International.

Nadal, who missed virtually all of the 2023 season, will face Italian Flavio Cobolli on Tuesday in the first round on the centre-court in Barcelona which bears his own name.

The 37-year-old withdrew from the Monte Carlo Masters earlier in April and is hoping to compete at Roland Garros in May, where he is a record 14-time champion.

“More than lamenting where I wasn’t able to be, I prefer to be happy that I am here,“ Nadal told a news conference.

“On a personal level it is a gift for me to be in Barcelona. I’m taking this as my last year and I want to enjoy every moment.”

Nadal, the record 12-time Barcelona Open winner, has not played a match on clay since winning the French Open in 2022.

Despite viewing 2024 as his final year as a professional, the veteran said he was not setting any deadline for retirement.

“We’ll keep going forward until I have the feeling that it’s not worth it,“ continued Nadal.

“I’m not putting a deadline on that, but as I’ve said, in the end life marks your path for you.”

The Barcelona Open draw had put Nadal on a collision course with Spanish compatriot Carlos Alcaraz in the semi-finals but the 20-year-old was forced to withdraw Sunday because of fitness concerns.

“Let’s hope he recovers well and quickly, it’s bad for the tournament because he’s the top seed,“ said Nadal.

“I’m not in a position to be thinking about the semi-finals.”