After more than seven months away from tennis, Spanish star Rafael Nadal will make his long-awaited return on the outdoor clay in Chile, at the 2013 ATP VTR Open, according to The Associated Press via ESPN.com.
The decision to begin his tennis revival in Vina del Mar, Chile, this February, on his favorite surface, the one that he grew up playing on, is nothing short of brilliant. Not only will Rafa gain confidence playing on a familiar court, but he will also allow himself to fine-tune his game on the slower playing surface in the process.
The 26-year-old Nadal has been sliding and smashing forehands on the clay since he was four years old, so it only makes sense that he will ignite his comeback on the crunchy stuff.
It's no secret that clay plays much slower than grass or hard courts. The ball bounces higher, players have more time to react and therefore rallies tend to last much longer. Over the course of Rafa's illustrious career, his ability to outlast opponents on the clay by getting to every ball and firing it back over the net has helped make him into an 11-time Grand Slam champion (seven of his majors coming at the French Open, the only clay-court Slam).
In a sense, Rafa is returning to his teenage ways, when he made his breakthrough excelling on the clay courts while straying from the faster—and in many cases, more challenging—hard courts, which are obviously harder on his body.
Rafa is scheduled to play in two other clay-court tournaments in February as well (h/t AP via ESPN.com). This means that by the time late-May rolls around, and the season's next Grand Slam, the French Open, gets set to begin at Roland Garros, Rafa will have a significant amount of clay-court tennis under his belt, assuming he can stay healthy, of course.
Although winning in Melbourne, London and Flushing Meadows means a lot to Nadal, he's almost expected to dominate the Paris clay year after year, boasting the record for most Slam titles there in the Open era with seven since 2005.
Clearly Rafa isn't worried about recovering his game all at once. His patience and obvious desire to make his comeback on clay demonstrates a unrivaled level of comfort on the surface.
Tennis needs Nadal at his best, and I'm sure at this point, fans will take whatever they can get, even if it's only on clay for the time being.
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