The fourth match point. Del Potro’s ball bounces wide. Nadal slides onto his back. His arms pierce the air. He has just won one of the biggest hard-court tournaments in tennis. He is back. Nadal, the new comeback King.
The Spaniard defeats Juan Martin del Potro in the final of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. A game that ended with a score-line of 4-6 6-3 6-4. It is the 25 year olds first hard-court tournament since his return from injury in February. The match began in Del Potro’s favour and the audience witnessed an off form Nadal for the first set, raising doubts over his knee injury and his comeback. The Argentine went up 5-4 and claimed the first set in 54 minutes. Del Potro squeezed Rafa deep into the corner but he fought back.
It took until the second game of the second set for the Spaniard to relax and then signs of the old Nadal began to emerge in all his former glory. An aggressive play began, that reeled the audience back in. A succession of big forehands saw him take back five games in a row. Nadal’s famous left-hand was just too powerful for Del Potros signature inside-out forehand that placed the ball right into the Spaniards comfort zone every time.
For two and a half hours the two players bounced on their toes opposite each other. The fifth seed versus the seventh seed. One had beaten Murray and Federer to be here. The other had defeated Berdych. Now they dance. A brilliant final touch from Del Potro that caught Nadal off guard may well of been the play of the game but it was not enough to tame the Spaniard in the 600th match of his career. “When you have one comeback like I’m having you remember all the low things, lower moments that you had during this seven months, doubts and all these things,” he said. “The doubt when and where you will be able to be back on a tennis tournament is hard.”
But comeback he did, aggression, drive and determination saw Nadal fall to his knees in victory. The 11- time Grand Slam Champion picked up some more titles and records to tie to his name today; a record 22nd Masters title, 14 straight match wins, a move up the rankings to No. 4 a third Indian Wells title, an 123-mph ace and his 53rd career singles title. “Seriously, it’s impossible to have better comeback, no?” says Nadal beaming.
He will skip the Sony Open in Miami next week while he rests his left leg but will return to the clay in Monte Carlo as he begins on the road to winning his eight French Open title. The King of Clay is back, and it seems he can play hard-court too. Let the ATP Masters 1000th season commence.