Rafael Nadal learned a lot about his body and mind on Saturday night in his second-round win over Radek Stepanek at the BNP Paribas Open.
The World No. 1 has been dealing with the lingering effects of a back injury he sustained late in the 2014 Australian Open, an episode so debilitating for the Spaniard that his runner-up finish to Stanislas Wawrinka left him in deep disappointment.
In Rio de Janeiro, where he competed in South America’s first ATP World Tour 500 event in February, the 27 year old played with the pain and through it, pushing his serve into an uncomfortable realm to keep an edge over Ukraine’s Alexandr Dolgopolov. The tactic, while painful, worked: Nadal would picked up his 62nd title and 43rd on clay.
After the win, Nadal immediately sought treatment for his back.
“I didn't serve for 10 days,” said Nadal “So I only started serving a few days ago.
“I wasn’t serving badly during practice, but I was changing my service motion a little bit to protect my back.”
The amended motion, Nadal explained, is what caused Stepanek to pounce on the Indian Wells defending champion’s serves during the match. The Czech created ten break point opportunities, converting three of those chances.
“[When I couldn’t do anything with my serve] the opponent was able to play more aggressive, more confident tennis,” said Nadal. “I served eight double faults. I gave him the opportunity to win a lot of free points.”
Nadal eventually held off Stepanek in three sets and now looks to take away the positives from fighting through his serving doubts to come out on top.
“[Tonight’s] match will help me understand that I really can start to serve with my normal motion again, without limitations and without feeling scared about my back.
“I have a better feeling than what I had in Rio, and that's the most important thing. I have a day off tomorrow. I can practice my serve a little bit; I can try to serve the normal way again. I was serving very well before what happened to my back.”