And he's back. After suffering through a multitude of setbacks ranging from injuries to family strife, Rafael Nadal has risen like a phoenix from what some thought just might be the ashes of a once prolific career. With a record sixth straight win at Monte Carlo, Nadal is ready to take full flight.
Almost like a fish finally returning to water, Nadal seemed to relish getting back to the surface where he is rightly called "The King" and went about smiting any foe who stood in his path. All challengers and those who doubted he could or would return to the form that made other players tremble may just now be sweating bullets.
What I'll remember most about Monte Carlo this year was just how simultaneously terrifying and awe-inspiring Nadal's form was throughout the tournament. Look no further than the fact that his toughest match was against Juan Carlos Ferrero at 6-4, 6-2. Oh and he gave up just 14 games in the entire tournament—the lowest since 1990 in a Master's Series tournament.
Some who may not have followed the tournament closely might be surprised to learn that Nadal's draw was not full of cupcakes en route to his 16th Master's Series victory. Nadal had to wade through an in-form Juan Carlos Ferrero (who has won Monte Carlo twice from 2002-2003), David Ferrer, and of course, Top 10 player Fernando Verdasco. The fact that he dispatched all in easy fashion is surprising though.
I was surprised that Nadal defeated Verdasco so easily. It's not that Verdasco played poorly, because he actually played well. Nadal's game however was a sharp as a razor and ready to do damage. Verdasco simply could not keep pace with Nadal shot for shot and was often running from corner to corner trying to keep points in play.
This wasn't the vintage Nadal though who sat 15 feet behind the baseline keeping the ball in play to tire out his opponent.
What was jaw-dropping was how often he sat perched on, or even inside, the baseline taking the ball early and hitting not just looping forehands, but ripping winners from both wings like he was playing on a hard court. Clearly Nadal has melded his classic clay-court game with his hard-court game, and so far, it's paying dividends.
During all of his matches this week, I noticed that there seemed to be no sign of any knee pain or lack of movement. In fact, I would say he moved as well as he ever has, which is a good sign for the rest of the clay court season.
I believe that in winning Monte Carlo, Nadal has finally earned the title that, baring injury, may very well begin another onslaught this summer. Going into Barcelona next week, Nadal's confidence will begin building what, I am sure, will be a wave that will crest and bear down on whoever he faces at Roland Garros.
I have a feeling that not only does Rafael Nadal want to win Roland Garros this year, I think he is hungrier to win it since maybe his first in 2005. Last year was a major disappointment there, and this year is about setting things right.
Nadal is young. At nearly 24, we often forget just how long he's been playing at the top of the game and how long he can continue playing if he manages to take care of his body.
But he is young, and the failures and disappointments he has suffered in the past year have brought him to the lowest of lows. Like the mighty and powerful phoenix however, he has been reborn through the fire of his trials and tribulations hopefully wiser, stronger, and ready to begin Rafael Nadal v. 2.0.
If the second half of his career is anything close to the first half, I imagine his place in tennis history will be very bright indeed.