The Return of Rafa

As Novak Djokovic dumped his final forehand in the net on match point at the U.S Open final, Nadal threw his arms and racket into the air and fell flat on the court, tears of joy flowing unabated. After the two warriors embraced each other at the net, there was more emotion on display from the Spaniard. This victory meant a lot to him and his family and friends on the sidelines were well aware of that.

“This season is probably the most emotional one in my career.” Nadal said. “I felt I did everything right to have my chance here. Means a lot for me have this trophy with me today. Is just amazing” he continued.

When Nadal went on an extended hiatus from the tour last year with a recurring left knee problem, there were plenty of speculations and unanswered questions. When will the Spaniard return? Will he ever get back to his best level? For me personally, it was not a question of will he get back to his best but rather when will he start dominating again? You see, if there’s one thing I’ve learnt in all my years of watching tennis, you can NEVER write off a champion, especially of Nadal’s caliber. Having said that, nobody, not even Rafa himself would have predicted the kind of season he’s had so far.

Out of action for seven months, the Mallorcan made his comeback on the lower-tier clay court events in South America. He passed his first real test on the fast hard courts of North America against a strong field with victory in Indian Wells, the first Masters 1000 tournament of the year. Then came the European clay season. Having dominated this part of the year for almost a decade now, the king of clay picked up right we he left off. With title wins at Barcelona, Madrid and Rome, Nadal was perfectly poised to defend his Roland Garros crown. And defend he did. Rewriting the history books, Rafa became the first man ever to win eight titles at one Grand Slam with his victory in Paris.

The Spaniard’s shock first round exit at Wimbledon was a lot similar to his upset against unheralded Czech Rosol from last year. But unlike last year, Nadal bounced right back and was extremely impressive in his back-to-back Masters 1000 wins in Montreal and Cincinnati.  It’s been Nadal’s ability to adapt his game so well on hard this year that has proved to be the determining factor for all the success he’s had on the surface. His aggressive court positioning, looking to pounce on any short ball and taking control of points, going for more on his forehand and the added variety with the backhand slice is what led him to his second U.S Open title at Flushing Meadows.

Having already qualified for the year end championships in London, and with no points to defend in the second half of the season, Nadal is a leading contender to end the year at the top of the world rankings. Unbeaten on hard courts this year, two Grand Slam titles under his belt and with a 60-3 match record, the Spaniard could not have asked for a better return to the tour. And to top it all off, the knee’s been holding up nicely. If anything, he looks fresh and is moving as well as he possibly could.

His Grand Slam tally up to 13, just one behind Pete Sampras and catching up on Federer’s record of 17, there is sufficient reason to suggest that Nadal could possibly be the greatest of all time. At 27, Nadal still has many good years left in him and, provided he remains healthy, the sky seems to be the limit for this guy.

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