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When a scrawny left-hander from the city of Mallorca entered the tennis scene back in 2002, the world stood still and watched a 15 year-old Rafael Nadal dazzle the spectators all over the globe. On that day as the Spaniard registered his first tour level win in his hometown most watching knew that they were in for something incredible, if not spectacular.
As years went by, Nadal started fulfilling his potential. And with it became one of the most popular and well liked players on the ATP circuit. In the era of Roger Federer, Nadal had mustered some space for himself, something that had at times seemed impossible.
Ten years and a massive eleven Grand Slam titles later, Rafa was already one of the greatest tennis players ever and being only 26, he was headed towards greater things. Nadal was an integral part of tennis, so much so that spectators took the Spaniard’s presence for granted.
In 2012, the 28th day of June the world stood still once again. Nadal lost in the second round of Wimbledon which was the King of Clay’s worst Grand Slam loss since his Wimbledon debut in 2005. What was even more worrisome was the fact that Nadal’s movement appeared severely hampered.
As suspected, Nadal was suffering from a Hoffa’s syndrome - the condition is described as an inflammation of fat tissue behind the knee, which particularly limits movement. Even still, having had a history of knee injuries, it wasn’t something that bothered as much, especially considering the Spaniard’s age. Rafa’s return to tennis was earlier scheduled as early as the Olympics at the end of March, as the Spaniard was given the honour of being the flag bearer for his country.
Alas, for it was not to be. The left knee played spoil sport again, and Rafa’s dream was crushed. The Spaniard, visibly heartbroken later admitted to it being ‘the toughest moment of the lay-off’. From there on in, it was roller coaster ride for both Nadal and his followers all over the globe, once again scheduled to finally return at the US Open in September, Nadal withdrew as we came closer to the final major of the year.
Ups and downs continued to surround Nadal’s injury, while the Spaniard’s statements provided no respite what’s so ever. One could see Nadal’s eagerness to return to the court, but a constant pain in his knee coupled with advises from different doctor’s left colleagues and spectators in a state of bewilderment, as no one, even the Spaniard himself knew when he would be back.
In late November, Rafa announced that he would begin his new season in Abu Dhabi at the Mubadala World Tennis Championships. With players such as Andy Muray and Novak Djokovic also confirming their participation at the exhibition event, the already highly anticipated comeback of the left-hander skyrocketed. However, yet once more Nadal pulled out, and this time with days left for the event to start. The Spaniard had apparently caught a stomach bug that put him out of not just the exhibition event, but also the up-coming Australian Open.
That ‘stomach bug’ coupled with a few of Nadal’s statements about how hard courts are ‘negative’, added fuel to an already burning speculation that the Spaniard’s knee isn’t quite okay, and that takes a step forward and is pulled back three.
After missing yet another major tournament in Canada – the Davis Cup this time, Nadal announced his return to tour at the VTR Open in Vina del Maar, Chile. This time the Spaniard was back, he played his first match in seven months in the tennis circuit at the ATP 250 series event, with the millions all over the world looking on, with expectance and anxiety in equal amounts. Fortunately all went well, and Nadal reached the final of the event without many hiccups. One thing that was however certain was that he wasn’t still completely fit and that he was still hesitant and cautious with his movement on court. Nadal lost in the final, but one thing was certain - the Spaniard was well on his way to recovery.
Two more clay court events in South America and Mexico meant that Nadal looked strong and now had two titles too. In the final of the Mexico Open in Acapulco, Nadal absolutely outplayed the then World No.4 David Ferrer, winning 6-0,6-2. And yet, what came as quite the surprise was the fact that the Spaniard decided to take part at the first Masters 1000 event at Indian Wells.
The anticipation to the tournament took a whole new dimension. Suddenly, the big four were all back along with Tomas Berdych and David Ferrer all in good nick. As the draw came out, it threw at us the match that the world wanted, Nadal vs Federer but this time it was in the quarterfinal courtesy of Nadal being seeded fifth. Nadal continually dismissed his chances of actually challenging for the event, calling the event as a ‘test for his knee’.
The Spaniard’s movement and game-play however, dispelled all doubts about his fitness and the pain in his knee. In the biggest, most well anticipated match in almost a year, Nadal outmuscled a Federer in straight sets as he made the going look ridiculously easy at times. The Spaniard then continued that momentum as he registered another straight sets win over Tomas Berdych, making it into the final.
The final was one match that lived up to the hype, with Nadal and Del Potro trading blows from the back of the court in a titanic battle. Despite losing the first set, and then going a break down in the second, Rafa came fighting back in typical Nadal fashion, earning a resurrecting win. As the Spaniard won the match, he collapsed to the floor, getting up only for a brief moment to shake his adversary’s hand, before falling on his knees again with his arms raised in triumph. The eleven-time Grand Slam champion had completed a tremendous comeback, and one could see what it meant to him.
In the build up to his return, Olympic silver medallist and Chilean tennis legend – Fernando Gonzalez had said that “With Nadal we all win”, a statement that isn’t just limited to the Chile Open.
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