At Indian Wells yesterday, Rafael Nadal won his first hard-court title in almost three years—a period of time during which he lost seven consecutive finals to Novak Djokovic, including three consecutive Grand Slam finals and two clay-court Masters, fell as low as No. 5 in the world rankings and was the victim of a seven-month absence from tennis due to tendinitis, gastroenteritis and more tendinitis.
In many ways, good tennis was finally back. Here are some lessons from last week's play.
Form Is Temporary
Roger Federer's scare at the hands of compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka was probably the best example. Wawrinka, a perennial underachiever weakened thus far in his career mostly by his unfailing ability to buckle in the big moments, proved the fickleness of form by taking Federer to three sets in the most unlikely of fashions, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.
And after world No. 1 Novak Djokovic demolished Jo-Wilfried Tsonga—the No. 8-ranked player in the world—6-3, 6-1 in only 54 minutes, it was quite astonishing that he would go on to lose to finalist Juan Martin del Potro from a set up and 3-0 up in the final set.
Class Is Permanent
Juan Martin del Potro hasn't been a stranger to questions over his viability as a candidate for the top prizes in the past few seasons.
One of the big contributing factors to his drop in form and the rankings was the wrist injury he sustained in late 2009. The Argentine was laid off for a number of months and in many regards regressed. Question marks over his fitness and his drive for titles surfaced and, on many occasions, it seemed he favored the sympathy of his fellow players following losses over the throes of hard battle.
At Indian Wells over the past week, Del Potro did a lot to dispel much of the criticism he has faced. Coming back from a set down to defeat the winners of the last two Grand Slams, Del Potro reasserted his skills and left his abilities beyond doubt (if they ever were).
His fall from the spotlight and recent resurrection mirror those of Rafael Nadal, now a three-time winner of the Indian Wells title. Seven months outside of the game was not deterrent enough for the 11-time Grand Slam champion, who defeated three Top 10 opponents—each at least a Grand Slam finalist, if not a winner—in four days.
No Country for Old Men
It remains to be seen if Del Potro and Nadal can build on the inroads they made in Indian Wells. Regardless, it is clear that any resurgence by either or both men will impact on the elder statesmen of the Top 10, Roger Federer and David Ferrer.
Somewhere out there, Federer is licking his wounds and desperately trying to convince himself that where titles cannot be won, not admitting to being injured when you play poorly is the next best victory.
Meanwhile, David Ferrer will no doubt be preparing himself against the mandatory losses to come against Nadal in the European clay-court swing.