February 10, 2013 by Parveer Mann
He’s back… Those are the words you probably heard all across the tennis world this week and I’m sure they carried a certain amount of enthusiasm behind them.
This week was the much anticipated return of Rafael Nadal who is returning to competitive play for the first time since last June. He returns after suffering prolonged knee problems and subsequent setbacks that have kept him out of every tournament since Wimbledon.
His return has eagerly been anticipated and that just quantifies his importance to the men’s game as there has not been a lack of intriguing storylines in tennis during his absence. In the subsequent Grand Slams he missed, the champions were Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic so the game was not exactly void of big-names.
What else we missed?
2012 London Olympics: The opportunity to see Rafa defend his gold medal at the historic All England Lawn and Tennis club this past July. He has spoken passionately about how important winning the gold medal is among his career accomplishments.
2012 Davis Cup Final: He would have been an instrumental member in a Spanish squad that narrowly lost to the Czech Republic. I’m sure fortunes may have changed if you had Nadal taking on Czech number one, Tomas Berdych.
Chance to finish year-end #1 or #2: This was the first time since 2004 that Rafael Nadal did not finish the year as one of the top two players in to world. Entering this week, he has fallen to world number five and there is the real possibility he may be a possible quarter-final opponent for the other members of the big four when the Masters events begin in March.
Guest role on USA’s Royal Pains: It would have been highly entertaining to see Rafael Nadal play the ‘Rafa’ who was the romantic interest this season for the lovable PA Divya in the USA Network show, Royal Pains. Instead, we got a South American polo player who attempted to wine and dine Divya across the Hamptons. I’m sure a Spanish tennis player would have been equal to the part if not for those persistent knee issues!
Rafa’s New Reality?
It is safe to suggest the eager anticipation has more to do with what Rafael Nadal adds to the game that is so different than everyone else. He treats every point with such intensity and makes a match feel more like a heavyweight boxing bout. For those who have had the chance to see Nadal practice, you can see that the work ethic is immeasurable every time he takes the court.
To suggest he is fully formed and back to past greatness may be premature. He still complains about lingering problems to his knee and the lowered expectations he has upon return. This week in Chile, he has begun the journey back on the familiar clay courts where he dominates like none other. This blog and others like it will continue to track the journey and see what Rafa we get this year, a returning champion or a ghost of his former self?