Nearly a year ago, Rafael Nadal was forced to make a tough decision: play the Olympics on an injured knee or effectively shut down his season to get his body in order for the second phase of his career.
Nadal chose to skip the London Olympics, a decision he says marked the lowest moment of his seven-month injury break. So you could understand the tears he shed as he stood on Court Philippe Chatrier after defeating David Ferrer 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 on Sunday to win his eighth French Open title, hugging the trophy and hearing the Spanish national anthem play.
Nadal’s latest Roland Garros title wasn’t about his performance in seven matches over the last two weeks. It was about a year-long comeback that put him into position to rise back to the top of the game.
After losing in the second round of Wimbledon last year and skipping the Olympics, U.S. Open, World Tour Finals and the Australian Open, Nadal returned to the tour in February. Since then he has made the final of all nine tournaments he’s played and won seven, including three ATP Masters 1000s and now a Slam. He has accumulated more rankings points in 2013 than any other player and can only go up in the rankings from here on out. Needless to say, Nadal’s full-on assault to recapture the No. 1 ranking he lost in June 2011 is on.
Here are some of our favorite photos from an eventful men’s final.
The biceps, the grunt, the speed and the overwhelming lefty topspin. Tennis is better when Nadal is doing everything to take over the sport by sheer force of will. Welcome back, Rafa. (Petr David Josek/AP)
Ferrer did the best he could and the match was probably closer than the scoreline indicates, given how many games went to deuce or involved break points. But in the end, Ferrer won the same number of games against Nadal as Maria Sharapova won against Serena Williams in the women’s final. And Sharapova played one fewer set. (Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images)
The drive of a champion: Leading 6-3, 3-0, 0-30, Rafael Nadal missed a lob that would have given him triple break point. He smacked himself in the head in frustration. (Petr David Josek/AP)
How a fan can sneak in a flare and run onto the main court shirtless at one of the premier sporting events in the world is just mind-boggling. This was the second time in five years a spectator has been able to run onto the court at Roland Garros. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Always a thoughtful one, Nadal takes a moment to thank the security guard who rushed to protect him. “Thank you very much for the protection. Maybe next time you stop the people from running on to the court, no? That’s the real thing.” (Petr David Josek/AP)
The moment of victory. (Michel Euler/AP)
Sometimes I think we all take Ferrer’s “Terrier” nickname a little too literally. (Michel Spingler/AP)
Will this go down as the 31-year-old Ferrer’s only career Slam final? He may not have a draw as cushy as the one he had here, especially after Jo-Wilfried Tsonga beat Roger Federer. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Four months ago, everyone (including Nadal) was wondering if he could return to form after a seven-month injury break. No one is wondering anymore. “I am a positive guy,” Nadal said. “But the doubts are part of this life. People who don’t have doubts [it's] because they are so arrogant. The doubts are in everything. Nothing is clear in this world, I think. ” (Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images)
Could the eighth one be the sweetest? “I never like to compare years, but it’s true that this year means something very special for me,” Nadal said. “Five months ago, nobody of my team dreamed about one comeback like this because we thought that was going to be impossible. But here we are today, and that’s really fantastic and incredible.” (Petr David Josek/AP)
Nadal better hope those ballkids up top aren’t Federer fans … (Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images)
“And eight times here is a lot,” Nadal said, when asked if he could continue to improve and keep winning in Paris. “But, sure, I will keep practicing with the same passion and intensity to bring my tennis to the highest level possible, no? I don’t know if I’m able to do it. As I always say, I don’t know if I can do it, the only thing I am sure is I will try, and I will.” (Christophe Ena/AP)