It wasn't flashy, powerful or overly dominant. It was clinical, clean, efficient and precise.
Wednesday's second-round win over Benoit Paire at the 2013 Mutua Madrid Open was classic Rafael Nadal.
That should be enough to scare anyone on the tour who was hoping this would be the year Rafa's reign of terror—three wins in a row, seven of the past eight—at the French Open would come to a standstill.
It's not the fact that be beat Paire—or even that he got the win at all. It was a second-round match at a tournament he has won twice in his career, and it was against a 24-year-old ranked No. 32 in the world. That's not even a dot on a blip on Nadal's career resume.
No, it wasn't about the result. It was about the process.
Nadal won 75 percent of his serves, 39 percent of Paire's serves, only faced one break point (which he won) and broke Paire once in each set. The 6-3, 6-4 victory wasn't some overwhelming, paramount display, but the Spaniard did exactly what he needed to do to win and controlled the match from beginning to end.
He later elaborated on his performance (via ATPWorldTour.com):
"That's an important victory today," said Nadal. "Each match in this kind of tournament is very demanding from the first round. He was a very uncomfortable opponent. He makes you play quite badly. He doesn't give you any rhythm. He has one of the best backhands in the circuit, without any doubt."
Give credit to Paire, who challenged Nadal more than the final score really indicates. He came forth with an array of difficult shots and forced the Spaniard to adapt throughout the match.
With each subsequent performance like this one, the worry surrounding Nadal's knee injury dwindles at an increasing rate.
Again, it's not just that he won. It's that he was flying around, showcasing his world-class defensive style against a player who challenged him well. It's that he was sliding on the clay, suggesting he is nearing perfect shape:
It's that, even in a match in which he played "quite badly," he delighted the home crowd with some vintage, almost magical shot-making and rolled in absolutely clinical fashion.
It's that he looked like Rafael Nadal, the King of Clay—not Rafael Nadal, the world No. 5 still recovering from a serious injury.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!