Rafael Nadal has made a successful return to hard-court surfaces—moving through to the third round of the 2013 BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, USA.
The clay-court champion, who is slowly making his return from injury after spending over half a year on the sidelines, is playing in his first non-clay-court tournament, and after a bye in the first round, he defeated American Ryan Harrison 6-0, 4-6, 6-3 to move through to the third round.
It's there that he'll face Argentinian Leandro Mayer for a spot in the Round of 16—where plenty of top matchups and opponents await the Spanish maestro. Supposing he gets that far, let's take a look at what could be ahead of Rafael Nadal at the 2013 BNP Paribas Open.
Being the No. 5 seed for the tournament due to injury, Nadal will unfortunately meet some of the top names in tennis even before the semifinals, with Swiss duo Stanislas Wawrinka or Roger Federer seemingly awaiting the Spanish king in the quarterfinals.
Both are still yet to win through their third-round matches, but if they do, they will then face each other in the Round of 16 for a chance to do battle with Rafael Nadal.
Federer, as we all know, is a very strong competitor and one that a less-than-healthy Nadal will struggle to beat. The Swiss maestro won a staggering 92 percent of his service games on hard-court surfaces last year, and like Wawrinka, he has the ability to hit big winners seemingly whenever he wants.
The prospect of either of these opponents, but especially Federer, makes for difficult times ahead regarding Nadal's chances at success here.
Compared to his potential quarterfinal opponents, the prospect of playing either of these three opponents seems a little easier and simpler. However, that's not at all to suggest that this trio wouldn't be more than capable of toppling Nadal on a hard-court surface.
Berdych is a proven contender against the big names on tour, and he has shown he has the service game and effective ground-strokes to challenge the best.
The same can be said for Anderson, who uses his big serve to dominate service games and won 85 percent of his service games on hard-court last year. That number was even higher for Berdych, who finished with an 87 percent win rate.
Gasquet also would provide a tough matchup for the less-than-healthy Nadal, given his ability to keep points going and make his opponent work for it. Nadal is a great player, but with his knee perhaps still not 100 percent, he could find trouble against the consistent but deadly style of the Frenchman.
Obviously being this far out from the tournament final, the plethora of players that Nadal could still face in the final is incredible. Here are four players above who stand the most likely threats to challenging the Spaniard in any potential final encounter.
Djokovic and Murray are seemingly obvious picks. The pair are brilliant tennis players and wonderful strikers of the ball that have shown already to be two of the best tennis players ever. Neither would be an easy matchup given their powerful hitting, but also given their fitness and health levels, which would run a less-than-perfect Nadal into the ground at Indian Wells.
The same can be said to an extent for Tsonga, though his game is still centered around his big serve, much like that of Milos Raonic. The pair will likely meet in the Round of 16 (unless one loses before that) and the winner of that will have a real chance to challenge from the top half of the draw.
Their big serves will hold them in great stead on the hard courts at Indian Wells and make them very tough challengers for any competitor, let alone Nadal.
How far do you think Rafael Nadal will go at the 2013 Paribas Open?
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