INDIAN WELLS: On 4th February this year Rafael Nadal began his comeback after seven months nursing the left knee injury that had kept his off the tennis tour. In that time he was forced to miss the Olympic Games, the US Open, the Shanghai Rolex Masters, the ATP World Tour Finals, the Davis Cup final and the Australian Open.
On 17th March the comeback was complete and any doubts Nadal may have had were history. He had played four tournaments, reached four finals and won three titles, the last being the ATP Masters 1000 in Indian Wells. Nadal defeated Juan Martin Del Potro 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in two hours 27 minutes. His 17-1 record was his best start to a season.
“It is an emotional one, a very emotional one, yes,” said Nadal. “A lot of things happened last seven months, to be back here and to have this very heavy trophy with me is amazing, no? I am winning three straight top 10s, beating the top 5 of the world and No. 4 and not be in the top 4 and you play quarterfinals, no?
“So beating three top 10, three very important players, and win title like this is just something unbelievable for me. Very, very happy and very emotional.
“When, you know, when you have one comeback like I'm having is, you know, you remember all the low things, lower moments that you had during this seven months, doubts and all these things. Hopefully I passed, and just can remember all the people that really helped me a lot during all this time.”
He and Del Potro engaged in a fabulous contest. Nadal had reached the final with a grinding win over Ernests Gulbis, then he beat Roger Federer and in the semifinals Tomas Berdych. Del Potro beat Andy Murray for the first time on a hard court then accounted for Novak Djokovic in a great battle from 0-3 in the final set.
The all-Spanish speaking final was tennis at the highest level watched by a sell-out crowd at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Nadal got off to a quick start. He led 3-0 and had a chance for 4-0 but Del Potro, with his incredible wingspan for reach, clawed his way back. He clinched the first set as the crowd found their voice.
The Argentine was playing with amazing confidence as he went up 3-1 in the second set. Against so many other players that would have been a winning advantage but Nadal is a different equation and he fought tooth and nail. The Spaniard reeled off five consecutive games to level the final with the second set.
The first game of the third set was a battle royale as Del Potro worked so hard to hold serve which he did but no doubt it was not without some consequences. He had been wounded.
Nadal was coming in for the kill and he did it. When the last point was won he collapsed on his back. The excitement enveloped him completely.
“I think Rafa deserves to win. He plays unbelievable for like an hour there,” said Del Potro. “The last hour of the match he didn't make effort. He played so solid and put me so far to the baseline and make winners from there.
“But I think I made a good tournament anyway, and Rafa played really well today the second and third set. He broke me early in the third. Play against him when the score is down is tougher, you know. But I was fighting all the time but he won in the end.”
This was Nadal’s first hardcourt title since October, 2010 and it was the first time he had won a final from a set down since the 2006 French Open.
Nadal had achieved his 53rd career championship and won a record breaking 22nd ATP Masters 1000 title.
Nadal reflected back over the seven months that he was away.
“In terms of competition, the worst was for the Olympics, when I had to take position to not go to Olympics,” said Nadal. “In terms of the injury last couple of months because I worked a lot, I tried different treatments, and when you feel that you are doing everything and the results are not being very satisfactory, you know, you go down a little bit, no? Is normal.
“Is not an injury, you know, the doubt when and where you will be able to be back on a tennis tournament is hard, no? And when you are there and wake up every morning and test yourself and the test is negative, you know, it's not the right feeling, that's not nice.”
Those moments of sadness were now replaced by joy.