The funny half-smile is back, along with the glistening biceps, chainsaw forehands and 1000 yard stare. Nadal is back and he means business – but this is no get rich quick scheme, he’s no stack ‘em high sell ‘em cheap market trader looking for a fast buck, Nadal is back in serious business – and that means steady and measured progress leading up to the French Open. What else? Nothing less will do for one of the most driven men in professional sports today.
Plenty of Nadal fans expected him to win the Chile Open in Vina del Mar upon his return, and plenty of Djokovic and Federer fans scoffed when he didn’t. But for those with a more long-term view, the thing of most importance coming out of that tournament was simple minutes on court. Personally, I didn’t expect him to reach the final, I expected him to perhaps win a few rounds and then having given himself a competitive work-out, withdraw in one way or another. Of course having reached the final, it was disappointing for him not to win it, but all in all it was a satisfactory return to action for the Spanish King of clay.
Although Nadal stated after the event that he did feel some pain in his knee, that’s been the case for many years and whilst “pain-free” would be the best possible declaration from him, as it is it’s just his body giving him feedback. He’s had surgery and been out for a long, long time.
What was encouraging was the see that the old adage “form is temporary, class is permanent” still rings true, there were enough glimpses of “old-Nadal” to leave his fans aching for more. He’s now withdrawn from the doubles draw at the Brazil Open, that can be interpreted either of two ways. Firstly, he could be struggling. Secondly, he feels he’s done enough soft minutes to be able to scrap the doubles route and focus on finding his singles form again. He’s still got the class, but form will take a while to come back – a certain amount of ring-rustiness is to be expected. In fact he probably reached the Vina del Mar final on class alone, and just happened to meet a man playing the match of his life in the shape of Horacio Zeballos – just as he did in his last match before the injury lay off against Lukas Rosol.
The titles will come, almost inevitably they will come, but Rafa’s rehabilitation is not complete, he will take at least another few months to get back to his imperious best. If he keeps himself fit and gets enough competitive minutes on clay, can anybody stop him going for a twelfth slam at Roland Garros?