Nadal cements return with triumph

Updated: 2013-03-19 05:39

By Agence France-Presse in Indian Wells, California (China Daily)

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 Nadal cements return with triumph

Rafael Nadal of Spain drops to his knees after his hard-fought victory over Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina on Sunday in Indian Wells, California, in the BNP Paribas Open final. Frederic J. Brown / Agence France-Presse

Rafael Nadal defeated Juan Martin del Potro 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 on Sunday to win his third Indian Wells ATP Masters title and cement his return from a seven-month injury layoff.

The 11-time Grand Slam champion from Spain claimed his first hard-court title since 2010 and a record 22nd title in an elite Masters event. He had previously shared the record of 21 with Roger Federer.

Nadal hadn't played a hard-court tournament since pulling out of the Miami Masters last March with tendinitis in his left knee - the same sort of knee trouble that would sideline him from his second-round Wimbledon exit in late June until February.

He came back last month to post a runner-up finish in Vina del Mar, followed by victories at Sao Paulo and Acapulco. In all, his 17-1 win-loss record is his best start to a year.

But none of those modest clay-court tournaments posed the challenge he faced at Indian Wells, where the field featured 49 of the top 50 players in the world.

Seeded fifth, his route to the final included a quarterfinal clash with defending champion Roger Federer and a semifinal win over world No 6 Tomas Berdych.

In the final, Nadal halted the giant-killing run of seventh-ranked Argentinian del Potro, the 2009 US Open champion who defeated world No 1 Novak Djokovic and world No 3 Andy Murray en route to the final.

"It is very emotional," Nadal said. "A lot of things happened the last seven months, to be back here and to have this trophy with me is amazing, no? Beating three top-10s, three very important players, and winning a title like this is just something unbelievable for me."

Nadal was quick out of the blocks, breaking del Potro in the second game of the match en route to a 3-0 lead.

But del Potro won eight of the next nine games to claim the first set and take a 2-0 lead in the second.

Nadal cements return with triumph

The Spaniard was clearly struggling against the hard-hitting del Potro, his trademark forehand failing him on numerous occasions as he failed to convert break chances in the fourth game and a game point in the fifth.

"I was in tough situation," Nadal said. "After starting the match 3-0, playing fantastic in my opinion, I had a big chance for 4-0, and then I had a good chance for 4-1.

"I lost all of these opportunities, I lost a little bit of my calm."

Nadal looked re-energized as he broke del Potro to level the second set at 3-3, and he unleashed a series of forehand winners to break del Potro again to go 5-3 up.

Gaining the break back in the sixth game was key, he said, because it let him relax and reformulate his strategy.

"I was able to play against his backhand and wait for the right moment to change the direction of my ball," Nadal said. "I put the match in a little bit slower rhythm and waited for the right moments to go for the point and it worked well."

He served out the second set with a love game capped by an ace, walking back to his chair with a business-like air.

Del Potro, perhaps tired from his lengthy duels with Djokovic and Murray, couldn't match Nadal's physicality in the third set.

While those three-setters in the desert heat were draining, del Potro wasn't leaning on that as an excuse.

"The finals are finals," he said. "They are special, and you get the energy from everywhere to play the finals. Rafa played yesterday also. Just he played better in the end, and he deserved to win."

(China Daily 03/19/2013 page23)