X

Rafael Nadal: Is Spaniard's Comeback Complete Without 2013 French Open Title?

Lindsay Gibbs@linzsports Featured ColumnistMay 29, 2013

PARIS, FRANCE - MAY 27:  Rafael Nadal of Spain holds his head during his Men's Singles match against Daniel Brands of Germany during day two of the French Open at Roland Garros on May 27, 2013 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images)
Getty Images/Getty Images

I'm not sure we realize how amazing Rafael Nadal's comeback from injury has been. 

The statistics he has amassed after an eight-month layoff to repair his injured knee are absolutely mind-boggling. He's won 37 matches, made the finals of all eight events he's competed in and won six titles. He's already earned nearly $4 million in just four months.

But what's most impressive is the quality of the wins. He's won three Masters Series titles on two different surfaces and defeated nine Top 10 players. That's a great career for most players, but for Nadal, that's just shaking off the rust.

Still, the past few months have, in theory, just been a warm-up. The whole point of coming back in February for the small clay tournaments was to be in peak shape for this time of the year as he strived for his record-setting eighth victory at Roland Garros.

So is the comeback complete without a French Open trophy?

It's a purely hypothetical question, of course, considering he's still in the tournament, but it crossed my mind on Monday as he showed signs of vulnerability in his first-round match against Daniel Brands. Though Nadal ended up winning the match 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 6-3, it was a reminder he is human after all. 

We take it as a given that Rafael Nadal will win the French Open, and lofty or not, he's earned that expectation. But, as we were reminded momentarily on Monday, nothing is a guarantee in tennis. 

He was simply hit off of the court by Brands during the first and second sets, much the way he was during his infamous losses to Robin Soderling at Roland Garros in 2009 and Lukas Rosol at Wimbledon last year. Since defense is still the heart and soul of his game, Nadal stands very far back on the court, leaving him vulnerable to players who hit the ball hard and flat and paint the lines.

Very few have the guts or the game to pull this off, but there were moments on Monday when it seemed like Daniel Brands might.

It's quite a testament to Nadal's dominance in Paris that a mere loss of a set could send shockwaves across the tennis community, but it's understandable considering he's only lost 15 sets in 54 matches at the French Open. 

The truth is that Roland Garros is Rafael Nadal’s house. He was built to play on these courts. He came of age in spectacular fashion on the Paris dirt when he was 18 and has continued to stake his claim for almost a decade. If you re-named Roland Garros the "Rafael Nadal Open," very few would bat an eye.

But while Roland Garros has become synonymous with Rafael Nadal, Rafael Nadal is a lot more than just Roland Garros.

One of the most impressive things Nadal has done in his career is expand his domain off of the clay courts. He has 332 wins on hard and grass courts combined, as opposed to just 285 wins on clay. He’s won 15 titles on the clay, four of them Grand Slams. Sure, clay tournaments are his bread and butter, but he’s capable of winning on any surface against any opponent at any time.

A lot of this is because he's one of the greatest competitors to ever play the game and has never been afraid of the big stage. He’s humble, open with the media, expressive and constantly looking to improve himself on and off the court. He’s also consistent with his effort, humility and greatness.

These personality traits have turned him from a one-surface wonder to one of the greatest players of all time.  

Roland Garros made him a champion, but it's his work elsewhere that has made him a legend. 

Since coming back on the tour just four months ago, Nadal has leap-frogged to the top of the ATP Race to London rankings, which is absolutely phenomenal considering he missed the Australian Open and the Miami Masters. This means he's No. 1 so far in 2013, even before the French Open. 

No matter what happens the next two weeks, one thing is certain: Rafael Nadal is back. He doesn't need a Roland Garros trophy to prove it. 

🚨 SPORTS NEWS ➡️ YOUR INBOX

The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.