If it were a player other than Rafael Nadal, I’d have some difficulty wrapping my mind around his remarkable exploits since returning to tennis following a seven-month hiatus due to his latest knee injury.
But it is Rafa and over the years, still awed by his resilience, I’ve learned to expect the unexpected from him.
Pundits and fans alike felt Rafa would gradually, painstakingly, ease his way back into competition.
Hah! Please…there’s no easing into anything involving high-level tennis when it comes to this guy.
Back on his precious red clay, with left knee still taped, Nadal went on an absolute tear leaving dazed foes in a wake of red dust. He reached the finals of three consecutive tournaments while failing to hoist the trophy in only the first.
The loss to Horacio Zeballos did little to defuse Rafa’s whirlwind resurgence. In fact, if anything, it infused him with renewed vigor and determination.
The carnage did not stop there. “SuperRafa” returned to the hard courts at Indian Wells and did not drop a set until the finals against Juan Martin del Potro in which he came from a set down to prevail.
He then attempted to defend his Monte Carlo title but fell short in the final to world-number-one, Novak Djokovic.
Undeterred, if anything, emboldened, Rafa immediately thumped countryman, Nicolas Almagro in the final of Barcelona to hoist that trophy for an astounding eighth time.
At that juncture, Rafa had reached the final round of eight consecutive tournaments, six of which he won.
How could he possibly top that?
Here’s how. He promptly avenged the Monte Carlo loss in the French by dismantling Djokovic in a stirring 4-hour, 37-minute semifinal widely hailed by many as one of the best clay court matches ever played.
He then easily dispatched countryman, David Ferrer in the final to win his eighth French title.
What is it with Rafa and the number eight?
With so much positive momentum, it appeared as though Rafa was well positioned to make a serious impact at Wimbledon.
And then it happened. In what can only be described as “bizarre,” Rafa was eliminated in the first round by Steve Darcis, the 135th ranked player on the planet.
It was inconceivable that a repeat of last years’ stunning second-round upset at the hands of Lukas Rosol could possibly occur again.
But it did. The only difference was the round in which it occurred (first round), and the name of the spoiler, Steve Darcis.
Things got more and more strange as the 2013 Wimbledon unfolded, so strange in fact, that in the end, Rafa’s defeat could be viewed as just an average run-of-the-mill event at a seemingly haunted tournament.
Injury plagued both the men and women’s draw. Players were dropping like flies. Both Azarenka and Sharapova took “wicked flops” on the the turf severe enough to halt their progression. Serena, the defending champ, who already looked to be a formidable force to repeat, now appeared to be the “cinch of all cinches.”
Bam! Damn! Just like that, Serena lost.
In those two weeks, one thing seemed almost preordained…that Murray would end the brutally long 76-year British male drought at Wimbledon.
He did just that.
Marion Bartoli became the women’s champ. A short time later, before a single blade of Wimby grass could recover, Bartoli announced her retirement.
I’m telling ya, some strange stuff went down at 2013 Wimbledon, some very strange stuff. So Rafa’s first round loss, put into perspective, was merely an omen of what was on tap to follow.
After his early exit, Rafa disappeared for awhile leaving many believing he had again been forced to the sideline by yet another knee issue.
It’s now abundantly clear that nothing could have been further from the truth. He rested, practiced, planned, healed a bit more.
And then he struck!
And folks, he did it without tape on his knee.
What does that tell you?
He’s healthy and he’s got dead aim on the final slam of the year, that’s what.
Win or lose, I think Rafael Nadal is gonna make things interesting…
very interesting indeed.