Rafael Nadal: Biggest Takeaways from Rafa's Title Run at 2013 Brasil Open

Patrick Clarke@@_Pat_ClarkeCorrespondent IFebruary 19, 2013

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - APRIL 18:  Rafael Nadal of Spain serves to Jarkko Nieminen of Finland during day four of the ATP Monte Carlo Masters on April 18, 2012 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

Rafael Nadal's triumphant return to the ATP Brasil Open in 2013 was a telling one, after the 11-time Grand Slam champion cruised through the field to take home his first singles title since last June's French Open.

In addition to learning that Rafa is finally back on course after spending seven months away from competitive tennis to rest his left knee, fans saw enough from the 26-year-old star to realize that he's still one of the top players in the world even at less than 100 percent.

Here, we'll break down the biggest takeaways from Nadal's Sao Paulo success.


First-Serve Dominance

The key for any tennis player is holding serve, and the best way to do that is by winning first-serve points. In four matches in Sao Paulo, Nadal won 80 percent of his first-serve points.

When you win your first-serve points at a high rate, you get ahead and often stay ahead, as Nadal did for the most part in Brasil. Plus, you limit your opponent's chances to break, thus minimizing the room for error during their service games.

Nadal's serve has never been his greatest strength, and he'd agree. But when he's in control of his serve and putting it in the box with direction and pace early, he's that much more lethal on clay.


Playing Under Pressure

Inevitably, Nadal is going to find himself in pressure-packed situations over the course of a match, just as he did several times in Brasil this past week. But Nadal's response under pressure was encouraging, as he saved 62 percent of his opponents' break-point chances through four matches.

These points not only turn the tide of a given game or set, but they can impact the result.

Nadal's response to the pressure he faced in Brasil this month has to excite tennis fans everywhere. Although it doesn't begin to rival the amount of stress he'll feel at Roland Garros this June, he has to start somewhere.


Scrappy Return Game

Nothing ever comes easy against Rafa Nadal, as fans witnessed in Sao Paulo. The clay-court master rarely gives up on a point or lets his rival off the hook.

That was evident at the Brasil Open this month, where Nadal converted on 50 percent of his second-serve return points through four matches. Although it's not an overly impressive mark, it does mean that Nadal was just as effective returning his opponents' second serve as they were on their second serve.

It will be difficult for Rafa to maintain that high level of play during return games against tougher competition, but nonetheless, it's a promising takeaway at this stage of his return to tennis.


Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter.

Follow _Pat_Clarke on Twitter