It may not have been a Grand Slam title, but when Rafael Nadal’s body fell flat onto the court, it felt like one of his biggest victories. The Mallorcan’s third Indian Wells Masters win, secured with an impressive comeback from a set down against Juan Martín del Potro, is surely the most important, culminating a successful return to the tennis elite after seven months out with a serious knee-tendon injury.
After Sunday’s 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 win over the in-form Argentinean, Nadal has now come through four tournaments without a relapse, reaching the final in all four and winning the last three, in São Paulo, Acapulco and now California. Once he had peeled himself off the sizzling court, the Mallorcan ran over to celebrate the victory with his coaching and training staff.
But prudence is still the watchword as Nadal, who now nips ahead of fellow Spaniard David Ferrer to move up to fourth in the ATP rankings, is to miss the Miami Masters in order to get his legs right before the brief but busy European clay-court season opens in mid-April.
A break down in the second set after losing seven out of eight games, the win seemed unlikely against Del Potro, who had already dispensed of Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic in previous rounds. But Nadal had more in him, playing almost as well as he ever has on a hard surface to drive Delpo from one side of the court to the other and force a series of breaks while holding his own serve with accomplished ease. “A lot of things happened the last seven months. To be back here and to have this very heavy trophy with me is amazing, no? It’s impossible to have a better comeback, no?” Nadal said as he bade farewell to the US courts, for now.