RAFAEL NADAL: THE RETURN

Rafael Nadal returned to competitive ATP Men’s tennis after 8 months at the Chile Open last week. The ATP Men’s tennis circuit lacked considerable spark since Nadal’s shock defeat to Lucas Rosol at Wimbledon 2012, and his subsequent time away from the game due to a troublesome knee.

In Focus

He chose his first tennis tournament at Chile, a little-known (250) Claycourt event dominated mostly by Argentines. By doing so, Nadal made his intentions about his comeback very clear- he has been pacing his training in order to return at full tilt on his favorite surface and defend an enormous amount of points during the claycourt season. A return at one of the hard-court events earlier this year would not have done his knee or confidence any good, though it will be interesting to see if Nadal plays both the hard-court Masters ATP tournaments (Miami and Indian Wells) later this month.

 Return of the Raging Bull

The ATP World Tour, for the first time in years, will have 4 players at the top of their game at the French Open- with Murray improving considerably over the last 365 days after a breakthrough 2012 season. Djokovic will savour the return of Rafael Nadal, and it could have come at no better time- with the Serb in the form of his life once again. He needed a challenger at the French Open in May, and now he has one. It will be a two-horse race at the claycourt slam, with Nadal presumably having returned to full fitness by then. Whether he has altered his game in order to lessen the stress on his knees- only time will tell.

In the meantime, his comeback tournament at Chile was a considerable success. Though a little-known Argentine named Horacia Zebellos will go down in the record books as only the third tennis player ever to beat Nadal in an ATP tournament claycourt final, Nadal will walk away from the event with a good deal of confidence. Nadal did not lose a set till the final, even beating better-known players like Jeremy Chardy on the way without breaking a sweat. His comeback was not all rosy though, when he lost to no. 73 ranked Zebellos after getting into a situation that would normally break his opponent.

 Knee-some

Zebellos lost a sapping first-set in a tiebreak, and the Nadal of old would have romped onto victory in the second set on his favorite surface. But this was a tentative Spaniard, looking to find form immediately on his return. Despite going up in the second set, Nadal lost in a close-fought tie-break (6). The pair traded breaks in the first two games of the third set- only the second time Nadal’s serve was broken all week. At 5-4 though, Zebellos made his move and broke the Spaniard’s serve again, winning the biggest match of his life against a 60%-fit Nadal. Soon after, Nadal combined with Monaco to lose the doubles final- ending his less than probable fairytale return with disappointment.

But statistics will not matter much anymore for Nadal, who will forego a few ATP Masters tournaments from his schedule in order to pace himself to play the Slams at full fitness.

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