It goes without saying that Horacio Zeballos' win over Spanish sensation Rafael Nadal on the clay courts of the VTR Open in Chile two weeks ago was not the expected outcome.
Rafa, arguably the greatest clay-court player of all time, was a step slower throughout that tournament, and rightly so. After all, it had been only his first event back on tour in more than seven months away from tennis after exacerbating a recurring left knee injury at Wimbledon.
Then came his title run at the Brazil Open, another move closer to his history-making form of old. Though never a cake walk to the final, he again showed us glimpses of his classic Rafaisms: boundless grit, an electric explosiveness between his feet and the earth beneath him, and the inability to accept defeat at any time or any scoreline.
This week, Nadal takes his steadily improving form to the final stop in his Latin American comeback tour at the 2013 Abierto Mexicano Telcel in Acapulco, an ATP World Tour 500-level event where Rafa is slated to play his first match Tuesday.
Though he is on pace to make himself a genuine threat for the European clay courts in the spring, the question of whether Rafa can come away from Acapulco unscathed and with Sunday's championship trophy in hand remains to be seen. That is largely due to the next-level tier of his competition waiting in the wings of the Mexican Open, a much greater distinction here than at the events in Chile and Brazil.
Before analyzing possible matchups against some of the world's best in the aforementioned competitors, it's important to assess Rafa's potential journey through the draw.