Monday, March 18, 2013

Rafael Nadal Rocks Tennis World At Indian Wells

Rafael Nadal was out of world tennis for seven months due to knee injuries. Despite the 25-year old's undeniable brilliance, despite his joint fourth most Grand Slam wins (11) and despite the fact that he has won the French Open (7) more times than any other player in tennis history, it just felt like he had been forgotten. Last week's big hard court Indian Wells tournament reminded the tennis world that Nadal is definitely not a man who should be forgotten.

It is  very easy to forget great tennis players in an era where fans are spoiled by greatness. Since Nadal was last on the court a lot has happened in the ever changing landscape of world tennis. Roger Federer won the 2012 Wimbledon championship, a victory that was the 31-year old's first Grand Slam win for more than two years and his first Wimbledon title since 2009. Andy Murray then secured his first ever Grand Slam title when he secured the US Open only a couple of months later. Unquestionably the best player on the circuit without a Grand Slam title up to that point; Murray finally solved his major title goose egg.

After the feel-good stories of Federer and Murray stole the show in the second half of the 2012 Grand Slam season, Novak Djokovic reminded everyone why he is the best player in the world dominating the Australian Open to start the 2013 season.

It seems that there are so many star tennis players in the world that even a player of Nadal's quality can make a comeback with relatively little attention.

Nadal himself deliberately played down expectations ahead of his first hard court tournament for almost a year. Hard surfaces are the toughest on a player's knees and even as the Spaniard was returning to action, there was a suspicion that these early tournaments are a part of his rehabilitation as far as the knees are concerned.

He didn't make a lot of noise in the opening rounds. In fact, he looked distinctly like he was trying to establish himself after spending time on the sidelines. He was taken to tie-breaks and even to a third set; it felt like Nadal would ultimately fall down when tested against the rest of the world's best players.

A quarter-final clash against his long-time arch-rival Roger Federer saw Nadal emerge as with an impressive 6-4 6-2 straight sets victory. However, it was easy to downplay with Federer clearly struggling with a potential back injury.

He avoided both Murray and Djokovic courtesy of the draw and issues something of a warning with a 6-4 7-5 victory over 27-year old Tomas Berdych. The world number six has built up a reputation of being one of the more dangerous hard court players and Nadal appeared to be at full strength dealing with a powerful opponent.

Juan Martin Del Potro booked his final place after a pair of victories over Murray and Djokovic showing off his tremendous power along the way. After losing the first set 6-4, Nadal launched an impressive counter-attack securing his first hard court title since 2010 winning the next two sets 6-3 6-4.

The Indian Wells title clearly signifies the return of Nadal as a real challenger on tennis' world stage. Doubters will point at the fact that he didn't have to match-up against any of the world's other top three players, besides a clearly hampered Federer. He has also decided not to take part in the next tournament in Miami next week.

However, the rest of the tennis world will undoubtedly be worried, especially considering that clay court season in Europe is just about to get under way. Nadal will have a softer surface to play on, which also happens to be his favourite surface.

The current world number four has the perfect opportunity to re-discover his top form and may even start as the favourite to extend his record of French Open titles to eight; he also has the chance to win a fourth consecutive French Open for the second time in his career.

If the 25-year old can stay fit and build up some momentum during the clay court season, then the rest of the world's top players may have something to be concerned about and Nadal may just be ready to compete for top spot in the world rankings again. The world's tennis players have been given a warning shot.

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