By Jack Johnson
The tennis community watched on, perhaps rather nervously, as Rafael Nadal came through his first competitive hard court match for over a year seemingly unscathed.
Yes, he did play Juan Martin Del Potro in an exhibition match last week, losing in two tight sets, but his second round match at Indian Wells was the one that everyone was waiting for.
After a low key but impressive return to competitive tennis on clay where he has was a finalist in Chile (lost to Horacio Zeballos) before claiming victories over David Nalbandian in Sao Paolo and David Ferrer in Acapulco, you could be forgiven for being a little worried ahead of Nadal’s return to the less forgiving hard courts.
As impressive as his dismantling of Ferrer was at Acapulco, movement on clay is a lot different to that on a hard court.
Turning on a clay court is less harsh and the virus that put Nadal out of the Australian Open in January may have been a blessing in disguise as a best of five set match on that surface would not have been the best way to return to the sport.
Playing three tournaments on clay enabled Nadal’s troublesome left knee to have a less harsh introduction to life back on the ATP World Tour but at some stage the Spaniard would have to test himself.
Against Ryan Harrison at Indian Wells he, rather expectedly started slow and he admitted after the match that his movement wasn’t great, but a 7-6, 6-2 win over the American is not to be sniffed at.
Expectations at Indian Wells should be quite low for Nadal.
For the first time since Wimbledon last year, the four best players in the world are playing in the same tournament and if Nadal meets Novak Djokovic, who has not lost a match in 2013 so far, on this surface, then there is the strong possibility that we would witness a very one-sided encounter.
For Nadal, Indian Wells, and Miami for that matter, is surely just a test.
It is a test for his left knee, for his physical fitness and for how he feels on such an unforgiving surface.
Andreas Seppi, Stanislas Wawrinka and Roger Federer are the daunting prospects that await Nadal if he were to progress any further but they are surely challenges that he would take head on.
Whatever happens over the next month, we should keep everything crossed that Nadal is still in good shape to contend for his ninth successive Monte Carlo title in April.