2013 Expectations: Rafael Nadal headed into February without having played a match since his 2012 Wimbledon flame-out to second round opponent Lukas Rosol. Many tennis fans questioned if his left knee would be healthy, or if he could regain his timing and competitive fire.
It had also been over two years since Nadal had won a hard court tournament. Realistically, it seemed a tall order for him to defend his clay court titles and capture another French Open title. Had he only done this, it would have been a successful season.
2013 Achievements: Nobody predicted that Nadal would win 10 titles including his eighth French Open crown and the U.S. Open trophy, both primarily at the expense of arch rival Novak Djokovic. He now has five Grand Slam victories outside Roland Garros.
In addition, Nadal hauled in Masters 1000 titles at Indian Wells, Madrid, Rome, Montreal and Cincinnati.
It was one of the three best years of his career. His spectacular play on hard courts included an undefeated 26 straight wins before losing in the semifinals at the China Open in October. Though his 64-3 record at the time would taper into a 11-4 run his last 15 matches, he had conquered the top of the rankings with over 13,000 points.
Most of all, his fire and competitive spirit were on full display. Tennis fields were tougher and more interesting with his presence. Renewed discussions about his legacy attracted more weight from fans and pundits, who pitched him as the greatest player to ever play the game.
Nadal thrived when he was counted out. He won big matches. He continued to stack his winning record against his big rivals and versus the ATP field.
Nadal is still the Spanish bull, and once again the tennis king of the world.