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Rafael Nadal beating Novak Djokovic during the 2013 US Open
Rafael Nadal during his 2013 US Open final victory over Novak Djokovic

How Rafael Nadal returned from a knee injury to dominate Tennis in 2013

When Rafael Nadal announced he would be undergoing the inevitable operation on his stricken knees after Wimbledon in 2012, very few people predicted that we wouldn’t see the King of Clay on a tennis court for the remainder of the year. Questions began to be asked about whether Nadal would ever be able to rediscover the form that saw him become one of the greatest tennis players in history.

This is especially after you consider that Nadal – on his favourite surface – lost in his first tournament back to Argentine Horatio Zeballos, a player that on paper wasn’t even in the same stratosphere as the legendary Spaniard. Yet it was still Nadal’s first match play in almost seven months and once the ring rust had dissipated and his movement became more and more effortless, the performances became ominously more polished.

After two straight titles on clay, it was time for the first real test of Nadal’s rehabilitation, the first Masters event on the hard courts of Indian Wells. The punishing shockwaves on the knees were the measuring stick to see whether Nadal could play effectively on faster more chastising courts. By the end of the 10 days, the Spaniard was lifting the trophy having beaten Roger Federer and Juan Martin Del Potro on route.  

Seeing the destructive way Nadal had powered through the tournament on his supposed weakest surface, the European clay court season was almost a formality. In the four tournaments Nadal played up to the French Open, he only lost one match winning three titles.

Come Roland Garros – his spiritual home – he was a man on a mission. His epic five set war with Novak Djokovic was one of the greatest matches to ever be played at the prestigious Grand Slam. Once his main rival had been dispatched, the final against fellow countryman David Ferrer was a glorified procession. After just two hours and 16 minutes, Nadal had become the first man in the open era to win eight titles at the same Grand Slam. Miraculously Nadal’s tennis had actually improved during his enforced absence.

Come the US Open, Nadal was in a different league to almost every player on the tour. Even Djokovic who for almost two years had been the model of consistency couldn’t make a dent in Nadal’s ultimate defence. With his knees in almost perfect working order, Nadal romped home to three straight titles including two masters and the final major of the year in New York.  This extraordinary run of victories was culminated when Nadal returned to the number one in the world for the first time in two years.

The stats show just how dominant Nadal has been over the past year. In every tournament that the Spaniard has entered this year on clay or hard, he has reached the final, winning nine titles over the calendar year. Amongst the top 20 players in the world, only Djokovic has been able to make a mark on Nadal yet still only beating him once out of their five encounters this year.

2013 has proved why Rafael Nadal will go down as the greatest competitor the tennis world has ever seen. To come back from a career threatening injury and then to dominate the year as he’s done is simply staggering.

There is still nobody that can threaten him on clay meaning he is almost guaranteed to win at least two more French Opens and with the Australian Open becoming the slowest major, you wouldn’t be at all surprised if Nadal were to triumph there as well, dethroning the current Serbian king. It remains to be seen whether his knees will hold up in the next two years or whether he will be able to mount a challenge at Wimbledon but nothing can be ever taken away from Nadal’s triumphant return in 2013.