Rafa Nadal said it was a challenge to hold himself back on his return to the ATP Tour after three months on the sidelines but the fiercely-competitive Spaniard expects to continue with the controlled approach in Barcelona.

Nadal had made a comeback to the tour in January at Brisbane after almost a year out with a hip injury that needed surgery but a muscle tear forced him to skip the Australian Open as well as tournaments in Doha, Indian Wells and Monte Carlo.

Playing his first match on clay since his triumphant 2022 French Open campaign, Nadal defeated Italian Flavio Cobolli 6-2 6-3 in Barcelona on Tuesday, and the 37-year-old said he made an effort to play within himself.

"It's difficult to manage all this and do logical things when you're competing and when you're competing in places that are special, emotionally," the 22-times Grand Slam champion told reporters.

"It was difficult to manage the conditions, but I was able to because I was more or less in control.

"I didn't have to make an amazing effort in terms of physical demands. Let's see if I'm able to keep managing that the proper way."

The 12-times champion, who soaked up huge applause in the main court named after him, said his first serve was still not firing on all cylinders.

"I think I'm not able to serve 100% free of problems," said Nadal, who meets Australian Alex de Minaur later on Wednesday.

"I didn't have pain but I didn't serve much for the past two months. I'm trying to push when I really need to, if I can."

Nadal is aiming to build up his match fitness ahead of the French Open, where he is looking to win a record-extending 15th title in what is expected to be his final year on the tour.

The Roland Garros main draw begins on May 26.

(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford )