By Daniel McAleer
He’s back, Ladies and Gentlemen. That fist pump we have all grown accustomed to witnessing over the years was back in full effect at the BNP Paribas Masters on a scorching Sunday evening at Indian Wells.
Rafael Nadal quashed any of the doubts that many people had about whether he could return to the heights of men’s tennis, sending his own message to the media who had irritated him with questions about his knee in press conference after press conference.
The resurgent Juan Martin Del Potro was his victim in the final, the Argentinian made him work for it on this occasion however. Having lead Nadal by a set and a break, Del Potro was looking in imperious form. Nadal however had not read the script as he clawed his way back having trailed by a set and 1-3 in the second to claim an 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 win over the deflated South-American. A jubilant Nadal sank to his knees in euphoric fashion, the Californian crowd could see how much this victory meant to him as he ran over to his camp to celebrate.
“I’m very, very happy and very emotional,” Nadal told the crowd after his triumphant return to the hard-courts, “A lot of things happened the last seven months, to be back here and to have this very heavy trophy with me is amazing, no? It’s impossible to have a better comeback, no? Happy for everything.” “Beating three top-10′s, three very important players, to win a title like this is just something unbelievable for me,” added Nadal, who dispatched Federer and Berdych en route to the final.
Perhaps it is a little early to say that Nadal can challenge for the big ones so soon into his comeback, but early form indicates that the Spaniard is closing in on the type of form that has seen him collect 11 majors in his tender 26 years.
All of this might never have been of course, all of the talk in the weeks building up to the Indian Wells tournament was about whether Nadal would be competing at all. The 2007 and 2009 champion admitted after his victorious campaign at the Mexico Open that he might be forced to rest his troublesome knee, despite enjoying a fine comeback having won back to back tournaments in Sao Paolo and Acapulco.
The home crowd breathed a sigh of relief however when Nadal confirmed that he would compete, and no doubt the world number five will wake up Monday morning, glad to have thrown caution to the wind.
Did he compete for the fans? Did he compete for himself? Or did he compete just so he could silence the media who had irked the Mallorcan? Who cares, Rafa is back. The big four are back.
After this victory the hugely popular Spaniard climbed up to number four, Djokovic, Federer and Murray no doubt can feel his breath on their backs.
This was Nadal’s 53rd ATP singles victory in what is already a bulging resume and his first hard-court win since Tokyo 2010. This victory made yet more history for Nadal, as he eclipsed Federer’s record of having won 21 Masters 1000 trophies, moving out on his own to 22 wins, throwing his name into the conversation of who is the Greatest tennis player of all time.
Next up for Nadal is the clay court season, the Islander’s bread and butter. On this form few would bet against him claiming his eighth title at Roland Garros. Can Rafa reclaim the world number one spot? Who knows. One thing is for sure, tennis fans have a lot to look forward to. Another thing is also for sure, Djokovic, Murray and Federer will all be on the practice courts an hour earlier tomorrow.