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Rafael Nadal silences doubters, rallies to win Indian Wells title

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(Frederic J. Brown/Getty)

Rafael Nadal won his record 22nd ATP Masters title and his 600th career match. (Frederic J. Brown/Getty Images)

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Rafael Nadal capped his four-tournament comeback from injury by winning his first hard-court title since 2010, beating Juan Martin del Potro 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the final of the BNP Paribas Open on Sunday. Nadal’s 600th career victory gave him a record 22 ATP Masters 1000 titles, one more than Roger Federer.

Here are some thoughts on Nadal’s win:

Nadal silences all doubt: “How are your knees?” “How is your confidence?” “How are you adjusting to the game after being away from seven months?” All these questions that dogged Nadal for the last six weeks since he returned seem completely ridiculous now. It’s simply an incredible feat for Nadal to beat the likes of a streaking Ernests Gulbis, Federer, Tomas Berdych and Del Potro to win his first hard-court tournament in almost a year. You could tell just how much it meant to him when he fell to his back on match point and celebrated the victory as if he were at Roland Garros.

“I don’t have a lot of doubts that if I am healthy and if I am right I have a chance to win on these surfaces,” Nadal said. “Beating three top 10, three very important players, and win title like this is just something unbelievable for me.

“Seriously,” he said, “it’s impossible to have better comeback, no? Happy for everything.”

All week Nadal has been hesitant to downplay his abilities on hard courts. He has brushed aside questions that imply hard court is his weakest surface. That speaks perhaps to his time spent over the last seven months reassessing his career and his accomplishments. It’s actually nice to hear Nadal come out and essentially say, “You know what? I’m a pretty darn good hard-court player.”

“[I]f we pull out all my clay-court titles and just analyze my career outside of clay, I had a much better career that I ever dreamed,” Nadal told reporters early in the tournament.

After winning his first hard-court final since 2010 (he had since lost in six straight hard-court finals), Nadal said he doesn’t doubt his prowess on the surface.

“When last year you are 4-2 in the fifth of Australian Open 30-15, when you are here losing in semifinals, when you are playing semifinals of Miami, you are there,” he said. “You are in the semifinals and you are playing finals. Why you cannot win titles? That’s the real thing, because to be in that semifinal you have to win against players who are probably the same level that players who you will meet in the final, no?

“So it’s something that I don’t have doubts, but after [that] you have to win, and I didn’t for the last couple of years. My results on hard I think were great the last couple of years, but remain [winning] the title, and now I did.  That makes emotional an week for me. Very important victory for me, winning, like I say before, against the best players of the world on a surface that is good for them.”

Del Potro came away impressed.

“I think he deserve to win the tournament,” the Argentine said. “He beat very good players here at Indian Wells. What I say the days before, he’s going to be fighting for the first position very soon.”

“First position” may be a way’s away. Though the win will put Nadal ahead of David Ferrer at No. 4 on Monday, he’ll likely drop back down to No. 5 after skipping the next week’s Sony Open in Miami, at which he was a defending semifinalist. Unless Ferrer has a disastrous next few months on clay, it’s likely that Nadal will go into the French Open ranked No. 5.

The difference in that one ranking spot is huge. No. 4 means Nadal won’t have to face one of the top four men as early as the quarterfinals at the French Open. No. 5 means he could have a tournament like Indian Wells, where he played Federer before the semifinal round for the first time in 10 years. It will be a race to watch during the European clay swing.

A triumphant comeback: Nadal’s 2013 tally: four tournaments, four finals and three titles, the biggest of which came at an ATP Masters 1000 with all the top 10 players. Sure, winning that title in Chile (he lost in the final to Horacio Zeballos) would have been nice, but this is the best return Nadal could have hoped for.

“Watching him in this level, he’s playing really well,” Del Potro said. “He already won three tournaments. He’s winning more than everyone after six, seven months [away].”

Del Potro knows better than most how difficult it is to come back from a debilitating injury. After winning the 2009 U.S. Open, he suffered a right wrist injury that required surgery and sidelined him for most of the 2010 season. He spent the next year and half trying to regain his form and seems to have finally gotten on track in the last eight months. Del Potro said only Nadal could return to this top five level so quickly.

“I don’t know how surprised I am because Rafa can do everything,” Del Potro said. “Not many players can do that.”

Del Potro added: “First, you have to lose the scare about your problem and then take matches to feel good. You can see the matches in Viña [del Mar] from Rafa and see the difference between them and now is like another player. That takes time to change or to improve. But he made it so quick, so fast.”

Let’s do this again, Delpo: Nadal will deservedly get the headlines, but let’s take the time to welcome Del Potro back into the fold. He’s had some great one-off wins over the last year, most notably over Novak Djokovic at the London Olympics and Federer at the end of last year. But to see him slowly work his way through the tournament and then play three high-quality matches to beat Andy Murray and Djokovic and go up a set and a break on Nadal in the final was a good sign for men’s tennis.

As great as Djokovic, Federer, Murray and Nadal have been over the years, the need for the Nos. 5-8 players to step up to the challenge and not concede their greatness is necessary. In his comeback wins over Murray and Djokovic, Del Potro showed better tactical awareness in his use of his slice and hit his forehand as well as he was in 2009.

This was a great tournament for Del Potro and he’ll head to Miami with tremendous confidence. After beating Murray and Djokovic, Del Potro said his next step is simple.

“Beat Nadal, beat Federer,” he said, laughing. “Try to beat all of them.”

  • Published On Mar 17, 2013
  • 8 comments
    WinstonBJames
    WinstonBJames

    robati21 I get what you're saying bbut there is very little margin in the greatness of the top 10 players, anyone of them will beat the other so whenever someone wins a tournament where all the top players participated nothing should be taken away from his accomplishment.

    welcome2
    welcome2

    Nadal beat an ailing Federer, remember. Del Potro had a fantastic tournament but spent far longer on court than Nadal. All congrats to Nadal though for his tenacity. Now it'd be nice if he stopped working the sore knees excuse; he's won three out of the four tournaments he's entered, his knee is just fine.

    WinstonBJames
    WinstonBJames

    He rabbit are you a fool, what are you thinking or maybe rabbits cant think they just react. He beat everyone that was put in front of hin,he beat the man who beat Djokovic and Murray what else do you want ? Do you want him to play everyone, next time when he beat Murray and Djokovic you will say he won because he did not have did not beat Federer or DelPotro. Your reasoning is just DUMB. And by the way my favorite players is Djokervic and Nadal.

    MFreeman
    MFreeman

    robbati21, you are trying to reduce the win by Nadal at IW.  He can only play the players put before him.  I hate when people try to put asterisks on a win.  He entered a Masters 1000 hard court tournament after not having played a hardcourt tournament in nearly a year and he won it by beating 3, I say THREE top 10 players.  Stop trying to minimize the win because that is just plain WRONG.  You can only beat who is presented to you as an opponent on the other side of the net and Murray and Djokovic did not do their part to get to the final.  

    robbati21
    robbati21

    Though beating Federer, Berdych and Del Potro--all incredible hard-court players--is an amazing feat for a guy who hasn't won a hard-court event since Tokyo 2010, and who took seven months off precisely because of hard courts' wear-and-tear on his knees, it would be remiss not to point out that Nadal did not have to go through the game's current best two hard-court players--Djokovic and Murray--to win Indian Wells. Not an asterisk by any means (especially if conversely, Nadal's absence is not an asterisk on Federer's Wimbledon victory and Murray's US Open victory), but something to think about come the American hard court season.

     

    Another thing--I don't know about anyone else, but I am most looking forward to a Murray-Nadal battle on either grass or hard courts. Before Nadal took time off, he, along with Federer, was the main reason why Murray had yet to break through in a major, as he defeated Murray in three(!) consecutive major semifinals in 2011. Nadal has yet to face a post-Lendl US Open champion Murray, which is a vastly improved and matured Murray from the one whom Nadal beat all those times in 2011. Personally, I would find this the most intriguing match-up at Wimbledon and/or the US Open, because if Murray records a resounding win over Nadal at either or both events, I think it would signal that post-comeback Nadal not only has to worry about Djokovic, but also Murray, which will be yet another obstacle in his quest to break Federer's Grand Slam record.

    shelley
    shelley

     @welcome2 No, his knee is not just fine.  It is much better than it was though.  And he hasn't used his knees as an excuse for a very long time.  If the media asks him about them and he responds honestly, that is not making excuses - that is discussing reality.  The anti-Rafa brigade spends far far more time talking about his knees than Rafa or his fans do.

     

    What I find so funny is all the excuses some people come up with why their favorites lost to Rafa - tired, old, bad back, on and on - but claim the excuse making is coming from the Nadal camp.  The hypocrisy is rampant.

    robbati21
    robbati21

     @WinstonBJames While I'm not sure who "rabbit" is, I clearly applaud Nadal in his fine effort at Indian Wells. My "DUMB" reasoning simply entails pointing out the tautology that since Nadal, in his comeback, is yet to play Djokovic and Murray--the two players acclaimed by many to be the top two players at the moment--then it will be fascinating to see how the Djokovic-Nadal and Nadal-Murray rivalries play out on faster surfaces after the French Open.