There's no more doubt now.
Nadal didn't just defeat the 17-time Grand Slam champion, he cruised past him on a hard court, signaling two things: Rafa is back, and although his knee may be hurting, he's just fine. Pain is a part of the game, and so long as Nadal is content to stick it out in the spirit of winning titles and chasing the No. 1 ranking, there's no more reason to doubt he can.
Prior to Indian Wells, Nadal had played in just three clay-court tournaments since coming back to competitive tennis following a seven-month layoff to rest his left knee. He lost in the final at the VTR Open in Chile, but he then won consecutive singles titles in Brazil and Mexico.
The response was as expected—quiet. After all, Nadal was practically born on clay. He's won well over 90 percent of his matches on the more forgiving surface over the course of his career, and he has seven Slam championships at Roland Garros since 2005.
The real question: What could he do against the other Big Four members on the hard surface with an aching knee after more than a half-a-year away from action?
Well, so far, Nadal has shown us that he can fare pretty well against the big boys on the demanding surface. He's dropped just one set at the year's first Masters 1000 series event on his way to the semifinals.
Everything tennis fans missed while Nadal was away—the passion, the effort and the intensity—has all returned along with the 26-year-old star. He's playing like the old Rafa, and any doubts about his left knee—and whether it would hold up against the best—have been squashed.
He's chased down balls, hit the deck and pounded the hard court plenty over the past week in the desert, and his response to the adversity, thus far, has been encouraging.
Regardless of how Nadal performs the rest of the way, his deep run at Indian Wells Tennis Garden has, no doubt, given him the confidence necessary to contend with the sport's best on its biggest stages.
The next test for Rafa will be on the Grand Slam stage, and the next one up just happens to be his favorite: The French Open.
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