It’s the 4th February 2013 in Vina Del Mar, Chile and whilst all the other top tennis players were having a well earned rest after the Australian Open – Rafa Nadal was making his comeback in the doubles tournament at the VTR Open. His singles effort to start later in the week.
It has been a hard time for the former world number one and 11 time Grand slam winner, who had not picked up a tennis racket in anger since his shock defeat to Lucas Rozol at Wimbledon over seven months previously. We don’t know if the injury that has sidelined him for so long (his ranking has now fallen to 5th in the world from 2nd) was the reason for that defeat but one thing is for sure it has definitely been the most worrying of his enforced absences from the tour.
Rafa is a monster and his all action style does take a toll on the body and he has had previous occasions away from the tour. His last significant absence was in 2009 when he was the victim of another shock defeat this time on his beloved clay to Robin Soderling and soon after it was revealed he was suffering from tendonitis in his knee and a three month absence followed, this meant he had to withdraw from Wimbledon, hence he could not defend the title he won in the epic final of 2008.
He returned and reached the semi-final of the US Open, though he struggled with his fitness towards the end of that year and into the 2010 season, losing all his matches at the 2009 World Tour Finals and then a quarter final exit in the Australian Open. What followed was testament to all his hard work to get back to fitness, with the fruition hitting during the rest of 2010. His 5th French Open title was achieved at Roland Garros that May and he regained his world number one status at the same time. A second Wimbledon title followed as well as his first US Open meaning he became only the 7th player to achieve the career grand slam – what a return especially when some suspected he’d never get back to the level he was at previously. He’d basically surpassed it!!!!!!!
The emergence of Novak Djokovic in 2011 did mean Nadal did not win as many grand slams as he would have liked but as the arch competitor he still competed and two more French Open’s have been won (he now has a record 7 titles in the open era) and he has been a runner up in three other slams too – all to Djokovic. A new rivalry that had only just began at the time of this recent injury as Djokovic had become the new world number one with Nadal number two and already they had contested the previous four grand slam finals, with Nadal 19-14 ahead on career head to head, though it was 3-2 to Djoko for grand slam finals.
His previous rivalry was with arguably the best player to ever had held a tennis racket Roger Federer – though Rafa’s personal head to head is a commanding 18-10, with a healthy lead of 6-2 in grand slam finals. Another player who Nadal is also going to have to come up against in the upper echelons of the tennis world is the newest member of the Grand Slam club, Andy Murray. And again he has a winning record, this time 13-5 (with a 6-2 record in Grand Slams – no finals between the two though).
Well in Chile, Nadal lost both the singles and doubles finals – a surprise, especially in the singles. Nadal moved onto Sao Paulo the following week for the Brazil Open and concerns over his fitness were again expressed as he pulled out of the doubles competition (citing knee overuse) and struggled a little on his way to the final, where he would play the experienced Argentine David Nalbandian, who coincidentally was his doubles partner at this tournament. However in what was expected to be a difficult and close final, Nadal swept aside Nalbandian, 6-2, 6-3, showing his old swagger on the clay.
Nadal as always was very humble in victory and let his fans know that he will keep working hard to get back to his best. He is now having a week off before he returns in Mexico for another clay court tournament which starts on February 25th. Nadal has acknowledged he will know much more about his fitness when he returns to the hard courts in early March at Indian Wells and Miami. Then the European clay season starts in earnest and we will see then if Rafa is back to his best.
What do you think then peeps, will Rafa be back or is his time at the elite level of mens tennis over. Let me know your thoughts.