King of Clay, Hard Courts & Comebacks

Sep 16, 2013 by

Old 67 Would like to welcome Emily Love to the site.  She’s a friend of Old 67 through Twitter, and stepped up to provide a piece on Rafa.  She’s 21, English and an avid ATP fan.  Thanks for contributing Em!

Rafael ‘Rafa’ Nadal, the Spanish number one, and current world number two, has shocked the tennis world by staging an impossible comeback. The Spaniard returned to the courts, after seven months out due to chronic knee injury.  Neither he nor the tennis community had high expectations. Clay, being his favourite and most successful surface, was an obvious start for his return to the sport. He re-entered the tour during the South American swing, to keeping a lower profile and seeing how his knee was responding to the game. Surprisingly, he made the final of his return tourney in Chile and went on to win two titles on the red stuff, Sao Paolo and Acapulco. It seemed his knee was responding well to his return, but the biggest test was yet to come, the hard courts…

Nadal had amassed previous victories on the hard courts experiencing greater success than most players do their whole careers, winning both the US Open and the Australian Open before taking his injury lay off. However, the surface exacerbated his injury, putting a lot of strain on his knees. It was for this reason primarily that fans and fellow players alike were unsure and full of anticipation for how the Spaniard might react to the harder surface. Nadal, in humble fashion did not disappoint claiming his first Masters 1000 event of the year on the hard courts of Indian Wells. Not only was this his record breaking twenty second Masters title, but it also proved he was well on his way to full recovery and would be a force to be reckoned with on his favourite surface for the European clay court season…

It would seem a regrettable failure would not be far away for Rafa, following so much unprecedented success and a loss at Monte Carlo, where he had for so long been victorious (eight years consecutively), was such a defeat. His rival, Novak Djokovic, claimed the title and put an end to the hold Nadal had on that particular Masters crown. However, the momentum did not stop with that. Rafa went on to claim Barcelona in straight sets and win his twenty third Masters title in Madrid and yet another Masters in Rome. To stamp his name on the summer of 2013 he topped off the season by clinching yet another Roland Garros title, defeating Djokovic for the trophy and some sweet revenge. To return to a title here and there would have been impressive, but to come back to the tour and claim several Masters Tournaments and a Grand Slam title within a few months showed that Nadal was not going to let his injury get the better of him.  It also showed his future opponents his passion for the game and enthusiasm to win was as strong as ever.

If the clay court season was the highlight of his return so far, the grass court season was a bit of a wash out. Nadal’s game has never truly suited the grass courts – he has had to battle his way to claim the Wimbledon titles he has and, compared with the clay, had had little success to talk of on grass courts otherwise. However, Nadal returned to SW19, a year after his withdrawal from the tour due to his injury, with no expectations. Rafa was hesitant to bend his knees on the low bouncing surface and as such suffered a first round loss to Steve Darcis of Belgium. Many now wondered if his success would only ever come again on clay. The American hard court season would prove or disprove this theory…

Rafa took a seven week break after Wimbledon to prepare for the final season of the year and the final Grand Slam. After the hardship his knee suffered in Wimbledon this was clearly a sensible choice and he returned with more fire than ever. Sending shockwaves through the tennis community, the Spaniard made it to the final of Montreal and managed to defeat the home favourite, Milos Raonic, to claim the title and his twenty fifth Masters trophy. He now looked a strong contender for the rest of the season and was closing in quickly on the US Open title and, to add further injury to Djokovic, the year-end number one. Rafa moved on from Montreal and jumped straight into another Masters event, Cincinnati, where he claimed his twenty sixth Masters title. This time he defeated the huge server, John Isner, displacing yet another underdog favourite for the US Open. He entered the US Open undefeated on the hard courts in 2013 and was the bookies favourite for the title. How right they were, Nadal clinched another Grand Slam trophy and once again defeated Djokovic. Rafa was playing the best tennis of his life and the emotion at this victory was clear in his post-match presser. “Means a lot for me have this trophy with me today, no?  Is just amazing.  Very, very happy, and just thank you very much everybody who helped me to make that possible.”

Where the Spaniard could climb from here, it is hard to say. But one thing is certain; he has well and truly come back. There is no doubt in my mind he will return to world number one and will defend many of his points next year, to defend every title he won this year however seems a bit of a stretch. I foresee, and hope, he can claim back Monte Carlo next year and go on to win yet another Roland Garros. There is no one currently who can dethrone the King of Clay at the French Open, but with this sport, as we often see, anything is possible. For Rafa now, he has proved himself and come back stronger than ever.  If he continues to play with such passion, enthusiasm and confidence, there is no reason why he could not equal or surpass Roger Federer’s Grand Slam record of seventeen and go on to claim more and more Masters titles. Watch out tennis world, Rafa is back!

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