Rafael Nadal may only be taking baby steps in his potential return to glory, winning three of his first four singles tournaments in the 2013 season, while making the finals each time he steps on the court.
Then again, you can look no further than a quarterfinal match against Roger Federer to confidently shout from the rooftops that Nadal is once again the biggest thorn in the sides of the top competition in the sport that have benefited from his.
Nadal took home the title at Indian Wells over the weekend, defeating Federer, Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin del Potro en route to the BNP Paribas Open championship. Only two of his opponents were able to win a set, and neither had the last name Federer.
The 26-year-old Spaniard also climbed back into fourth on the ATP World Tour Rankings, joining the three men (Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Federer) who are considered to be the "Top Four" and most elite players right now in the tennis world.
If Nadal's match against Federer in the quarterfinals is any indication of his march back towards the top of the rankings, we are in for an exciting season in the sport.
First, we'll concede that Federer was ailing a little bit at the time of the match. He was dealing with a back issue that limited him in the first couple of rounds at Indian Wells, yet when the two men met in the middle of the court, Federer told Nadal that he was fine (via Sports Illustrated).
Nadal went on to say after the match that he didn't think Federer put up as much of a fight as he normally does when cornered in the second set of the 6-4, 6-2 Nadal win (via ESPN), but it's hard to imagine Fed packing it in against an opponent that he now has a 10-19 career record against in head-to-head matchups.
Nadal breezed through the first set, forcing Federer into errors on a hard surface (not his specialty) while grabbing the one-set lead. He then took complete command in the second, breaking Fed's serve twice en route to a 6-2 set win and momentum that would carry him over his next two opponents for his first win on a hard surface since 2010.
In the process, he sent a message out to the rest of the competition.
Which tennis star will win the most majors in 2013?
That message is simple: I'm back.
Anyone who can win in straight sets against FedEx deserves some recognition, but it just so happens that the latest carrier of that title is a man who needs no extra recognition to understand what kind of impact he's going to have in ATP tournaments like the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters and Barcelona Open while preparing for the French Open and Wimbledon later in the year.
Djokovic, Murray and the rest of the field are all paying attention to his most-recent meteoric rise back to the top of tennis. Both the Djoker and Murray lost out to del Potro—the man who Nadal dispatched in the final to take home his third trophy of the young season.
Nadal is gaining steam. Like it or not, the win over Federer was representative of that fact.
We'll see if he can keep this momentum going heading into Roland Garros and the All England Club, but count on Nadal to have made his point loud and clear after standing atop the podium yet again on Sunday at Indian Wells.