| Rafael Nadal |
London: Imagine for a moment you are one of Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray or Roger Federer tuning in to the final of the BNP Paribas Open on Sunday. You watch Rafael Nadal, apparently on the ropes against the hardest forehand in tennis, recover to break the resilience of his opponent, Juan Martídel Potro, and complete the day with his incisors embedded in another trophy.
Do you feel pleasure that Nadal is back — Federer kept insisting that he was, though he may have been joking — or might you silently curse? Or do you count your blessings and your Grand Slam titles (Federer 17, Djokovic six and Murray one), each of which increased by one when the Spaniard was absent for seven months?
Neither Federer nor Nadal will compete in the Sony Open in Miami this week, which is a blow to that particular event. Djokovic has to keep on playing, for he has energy to burn, and Murray needs more matches and victories to embolden him.
Miami is peeved at Federer and Nadal for their no-shows, though it is probably paying a heavy price for its fallouts with IMG, the management company that represented both men until last year, and that also owns the event. Federer said at the start of this year that he was reining back on his commitments, and the chances of Nadal playing this week receded with every extra match he played here.
One of those was against Federer in an entirely one-sided quarter final before he completed his duties on Sunday with a performance of electricity, sustained effort and immense court coverage to beat Del Potro, of Argentina, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. It was on a par with any of Nadal’s previous 234 successes in Masters 1000 tournaments. This, remarkably, was his first victory in seven hard-court finals and his 22nd in a tournament of this stature.
Now it is time for clay. When Nadal resumed in February after his hiatus, he reached three clay-court finals in South America, losing just a single match: the final in Viña del Mar, Chile, to Horacio Zeballos of Argentina. The Spaniard is scheduled to play in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid and Rome before attempting to land his eighth French Open in June. Federer does not intend to resume until Madrid in the second week of May.
“No, no, for me clay doesn’t mean victory,” Nadal tried to insist. “Clay means this is the surface that I love to play and I had a great success in the past, but every year is a different year. Every year I have to improve.
“My schedule is, the four obligatories [Monte Carlo, Madrid, Rome, Paris], and Barcelona. I go week by week since I came back. For example, I cannot go to Miami. I’m very sorry for the organisation and for the fans, but we never thought we’d be able to play all the matches possible since I came back.
“The doctors recommend that I should go home for a few weeks and rest and keep practising the right way. I need more power on the left leg quadriceps, so I need to keep working hard. The competition is hard for the body.”