Rafael Nadal has returned. More than that, he has reloaded. His comeback against Juan Martin del Potro at Indian Wells shows the Spaniard's career is not done just yet, says Steve Elling.
Rafael Nadal's win makes quite a racket after Indian Wells win
Never let it be said that you cannot learn a little something while watching sports.
The basic Spanish term for return is "volver". As it relates to the incredible comeback of former world No 1 Rafael Nadal, "revolver" might be even better.
Guns blazing last weekend as though he had never been away, the Spaniard has never been more animated, and given the circumstances of a career that was in doubt only a month ago, his victory at the ATP Masters event in Indian Wells, California, was a full-bore blast to behold.
Nadal stormed back to beat No 7 Juan Martin del Potro 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 on Sunday, winning his first title on a hard-court surface since 2010.
The final point secured, Nadal dropped to the court, rolled over on to his back and tried to soak up the moment as confetti rained down.
Not possible. His comeback has been borderline incomprehensible.
Having spent six months on the sideline with an injury to his left knee, the 11-time grand slam winner in January withdrew from the Australian Open, raising red flags about whether knee surgery, not rest and rehabilitation, would have been the better option. Even he could not answer the question.
Well, not immediately.
In his first tournament back, Nadal last month was upset in the final in Chile by Horatio Zeballos, who had never recorded an ATP victory. It did more to raise eyebrows than quiet concern.
Slowly building confidence, he won modest clay-court events in Sao Paolo and Acapulco before rolling into southern California for his first hard-court test in a year.
Careering around like he had springs for legs, fans seemed to embrace Nadal like never before as he defeated the beloved Roger Federer in the quarter-final, Tomas Berdych in the semis and Del Potro in the final to improve to 17-1 this year, the best start of his career.
"When you have one comeback like I'm having, you remember all the low things, lower moments that you had during the seven months," he said.
Nadal has shown no ill effects, at least on court, from logging so many matches over such a short span, although after playing four times in five weeks,he withdrew from this week's Masters event in Miami, lest he overdo things.
"Beating three top-10 players and winning a title like this is just something unbelievable for me," Nadal said. "I'm very, very happy, and very emotional."
His ad-libbed celebration on the court - he leapt into the stands to hug the members of his entourage - was indelible. The fact that his knee survived the revelry further underscored his health.
"It's probably one of the most emotional victories of my career," said Nadal, 26. "The support since I came back has been huge. It's an unforgettable week and an unforgettable tournament."
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