Before Saturday, it had been 346 days since Rafael Nadal played a tennis match on a hardcourt surface. When you take that into account, his straight-set victory over Ryan Harrison gives his fans hope for a major comeback year in 2013.
Nadal beat the American 7-6 (7-3), 6-2 in a second-round match in the BNP Paribas Open. The Spaniard is a two-time champ at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, and on Saturday, he showed why.
After missing seven months with a knee injury, many expected it to take much longer for Nadal to return to the harder surface, as it's less forgiving on his ailing knee compared to his preferred clay surface.
That's a huge reason why Saturday's return from a nearly year-long absence from the hardcourt was such a big deal. And why his victory over a nationally recognized opponent shouldn't be overlooked in the tennis world.
2012 was the first time in eight years that Nadal didn't finish either No. 1 or No. 2 in the world tennis rankings. That alone is enough to propel him to a comeback season.
But the only surface where he can be considered in the top two anymore is the clay surface. Winning one major per year, only on clay, won't help him reach the legendary status that Novak Djokovic is quickly reaching and that Roger Federer has already reached.
Not to mention Andy Murray, who is about one major away from making people forget about this "Nadal" guy altogether.
If he wants to be forever remembered as one of the best in history, Nadal will have to get back to his best on the hardcourt and win at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
Even though dominating the French Open every year on clay will allow him to continue adding to his number of total majors, Nadal won't be seriously considered in the top tier of current tennis contenders if he can't dominate on the hardcourt.
As he moves on in the tournament, Nadal will continue growing accustomed to the hardcourt and get his game back altogether. Once he does that, he'll be able to quickly climb back into the elite group of tennis players.
But not until then.
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