It’s a source of great happiness to see Rafael Nadal returning to top-level tennis.
Even his rivals were talking about the vacuum he left behind when he took several months off with a knee injury. The tennis world missed him – probably as much as he missed tennis.
And the results are very encouraging. He reached the final of Vina del Mar in his first tournament, then won in Sao Paulo, and again in Acapulco, thrashing world number four David Ferrer in the final.
If the opponents in the first two tournaments were modest, then his foes in Mexico – Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro – were anything but. The Spaniard is beginning to approach somewhere near his best on the clay.
But his return has hurt him. He has played in pain. It was seen in tentativeness in his serve, where he has hit few or even no aces in matches, as well as many double faults. In one game against Jeremy Chardy he double-faulted three times. The anxiety was still there.
I also saw that hesistation in his movement – and I suspect that is because he is worrying about the pain and stress on his knees after so many months out.
But those kinks are being ironed out, and he’s becoming powerful again. What makes him great is his competitive spirit, and he has sought to work within his limitations, and shown patience when his old surety was not there.
And it is quite something when a player can take eight months out and return at this level straight away. I’ve been intrigued by the reaction of those watching it happen. Nobody was surprised – but had a female tennis player done the same, as Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters or Serena Williams have done in the past, most would have been making comments about the weakness of the women’s game.
For that reason I’m happy to see that men’s tennis has seen a similar phenomenon here. The women mentioned above were so dominant at the time of their disappearance that they could still return a the top. Let’s celebrate the quality of these champions.
What next for Nadal? We know that he will be competitive – but we also know that his advancing age and his injury history will have a bearing on what comes next for him. He will need to pick and choose his tournaments carefully to last in the sport as long as possible.
Might it have been preferable to skip Indian Wells and Miami? To avoid a sudden change of surface from clay to hard courts, and to allow some recovery time? Perhaps.
I hope that he can be judicious, and not make scheduling errors so that we see more of Rafa at his best.