Prior to the final of Vina del Mar, only two men had ever beaten Rafael Nadal in the finals of a clay court tournament. Those two were former number one, the great Roger Federer and the current number one, Novak Djokovic.
“Who” says you?
If Horatio Zeballos were never to win another ATP tournament, his name will not be forgotten. He’s done something exciting, memorable, unexpected, maybe even somewhat astonishing.
The guy beat the greatest clay court player ever on the red dirt in the finals of a sanctioned ATP event.
Kaboom! Just like that, he’s now famous.
On the popular quiz show “Jeopardy,” in the category of “Sports,” there may eventually be the clue, “Most obscure, and one of only three professional tennis players to have ever beaten Rafael Nadal in the final round of a clay court tournament.”
Answer: “Who is Horatio Zeballos?”
That could be a whopping $1000 question. A lot of folks would miss that one.
With all due respect to Zeballos, I can’t honestly say I expected Rafa to lose the final. On the other hand, I’m not shocked that he did. Given his protracted absence (over seven months) from the tour, I felt it unrealistic to think he would be the same player he was prior to the knee injury.
Surely many Nadal fans were dismayed by the loss. Rafa himself may even have been a bit deflated as well, but I saw nothing but positives. Just seeing him playing again was invigorating. He brings so much to the game.
There is no substitute for match play like playing matches. Practice matches are beneficial but cannot reproduce the intensity level of tournament play so vital to becoming match-tight.
Rafa simply was not match-tight, not even close, yet he still made it to the finals.
In spite of the obvious rust, it was very encouraging to see him not playing tentatively on the knee. I think that was of the utmost importance physically, and to a greater extent, mentally. Rafa has to know in his very core that the knee is solid, that he can extend himself without suffering debilitating re injury.
Vina del Mar was a test flight and Nadal soared gloriously.
Welcome back champ.