Rafael Nadal: Rafa Is Making Smart Decision Returning to Clay Court First

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 18, 2013

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 11:  Rafael Nadal of Spain poses with the Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy in the men's singles final against Novak Djokovic of Serbia during day 16 of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 11, 2012 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

It's only appropriate that Rafael Nadal is making his return to the clay at the Chilean Open.

He was originally believed to be returning at the Brazil Open on Feb. 11. Instead, he has moved the return date up one week, to the Chilean Open (h/t ESPN, via The Associated Press).

Sometimes, it seems that the Spaniard was born on clay, considering his dominance on the surface. He's won seven of the last eight French Opens. There has been perhaps no player better on a single surface than Nadal on clay.

He has been out since Wimbledon last year with knee issues. They've been a nagging issue, so it was only a matter of time before he had to take a lengthy amount of time off.

The best thing that he could have done was to simply take a step away from the game. So much of his game is predicated on his stamina and ability to run down any shot. When he is more stationary, he's nowhere near as effective.

Despite the talent he has, Nadal needs to regain some confidence. It would be disastrous to have him start the season with absolutely no momentum He needs to kick off 2013 with some wins.

He's almost like a prizefighter who's being groomed. The fighter's manager will give him some easy fights to build his confidence up, and when the time's right, he gets the shot at the champion.

Nadal has missed so much match action that he needs to ease back into it. He can't simply jump back into a big tournament with Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic before he's absolutely ready to tackle the best in the world.

The fields for the Brazil and Chilean Opens have some good players, but none of them are particularly daunting.

This is the way it needs to be for Rafa. He couldn't replicate the feeling that playing in a tournament can provide. It's a whole different beast when your tournament livelihood is on the line and you're down a couple of games in the deciding set.

Now, with plenty of rest, he's ready to get back into the swing of things, and there's no better way for that to happen than start him out on the clay.