BNP Paribas Open defending champion Rafael Nadal returns to the California desert with some very special memories. This time last year, the Spaniard entered the Indian Wells event early in a comeback from an injury that sidelined him for eight months. He didn’t expect to leave with the title.
After impressing everyone – even himself – with his performances in those first clay tournaments in his return (Vina del Mar, Sao Paulo, Acapulco), the Mallorca native faced a tough test on the hard courts of Indian Wells: would he be too rusty?
Nadal passed with flying colors, notching wins over rising star Grigor Dimitrov and the flashy Jo-Wilfried Tsonga before defeating top seedJuan Martin del Potro in the final. This marked the third trophy of 10 that Nadal would hoist in 2013. “It was very emotional moment for me to win on hard courts again,” he said, “and so was winning a Masters 1000 after a long period of time not playing a lot of tennis.”
Entering this year’s event, the World No. 1 thinks not about match toughness but about the lingering disappointment from his loss toStanislas Wawrinka in Melbourne. The 27 year old seemed on his way to second Australian Open trophy until back injury impeded him in the final. Ever the professional showman, Nadal expressed disappointment that he could not play his best tennis in that loss to his Swiss opponent.
“I am still very disappointed,” said Nadal. “That’s one of the toughest moments in my career. Spending one-and-a-half hours there mentally knowing that you will not win and you will not compete.
“It’s much harder to lose that way than to lose after six hours against [Novak Djokovic],” referring to the epic five-set final of 2012. “I did everything right to be there to compete for last year’s final.” He might not have won the match, he said, but he would have competed at his highest level.
“[Usually] I think about a loss for a few hours and then I get over it and look toward the next thing,” said Nadal. “But after that final it took a little more time.”
And now the 13-time Grand Slam champion looks to defend his title here in the desert, a tournament he has won three times (2007, 2009, 2013) and that he praises for its “perfect” on-court conditions. He opens his campaign against Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic on Saturday. In the top half of the men’s singles draw, Nadal could face Alexandr Dolgopolov, his opponent in last week’s Acapulco final, in the third round, and then Roger Federer in the semi-finals.