• Chris Wilkinson

Brilliant Nadal back mixing it with the big boys

Chris Wilkinson March 19, 2013
Rafa Nadal is on the up once again following a brilliant return to action © Getty Images
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Rafael Nadal made a seamless transition from clay to the tough-on-the-body concrete with victory at Indian Wells and I think what he has done just shows what a great competitor and player he is.

He was out for seven months with a knee injury and already he has won 18 matches in his last six weeks, with only one defeat, which is the best start to a season he has had in his career. How he has been able to reel this run off just shows what a player he is. He was a runner-up in Vina Del Mar, then won in Brazil and Acapulco and then went on to Indian Wells to win there. And off the back of not having not played for seven months, I think it is quite incredible.

There were many questioning what he would be like when he returned. Many thought he would not get there so soon, there were some who felt he would not be able to get back, so to achieve what he has achieved is exceptional.

The other question that was raised was about whether he would go over and play again on the hard courts. I wrote in a recent column saying he would not go over and play in the States, but he always comes back and proves you wrong. He went over there and beat Del Potro in the final, beat Federer and Berdych on the way to that final so to me what he has done is remarkable. It proves he is back amongst the big boys.

Winning Indian Wells could have tempted Rafa to go and play in Miami, but he is not doing that and I think it is a sensible move. For him it is all about the schedule. He has got to manage his knees, get them looked at when needed. So for him, picking the tournaments on the right surface is of huge importance. The next event he will play is Monte Carlo where he will be bidding for a ninth win in a row. Rafa has a lot of points to defend on the clay, but he keeps coming back and winning on that surface again.

If you look at it from the French Open onwards, he has no points to defend. Pretty much from June to February, seven months, he has nothing to hold on to so it is gain, gain, gain for a man who is back up to No. 4 in the world.

There is a chance that if he stays injury free, Rafa can be challenging for the world No. 1 spot later in the year. But Novak Djokovic has a stranglehold on that, despite suffering his first defeat of the year to Del Potro at Indian Wells. He had that wonderful year in 2011, 2012 wasn't too bad either, and he started this year in supreme form. He is still easily the No. 1 player in the world. If you look at the points, Novak has 13,280 with Federer second on 8,715 - so it is a huge gap and Novak is still the man to beat.

Tough times for Fed

Roger Federer was one of Rafa's victims on his way to victory at Indian Wells and it is shaping up as if this could be a tough year for Federer. I wrote in a column earlier this year that I felt he was going to struggle, with him getting older, and it is shaping up to be that way. He had a bad back at Indian Wells and as he gets older he will pick up more injuries.

He has always been pretty much injury free and that does show what a tremendous athlete he is. But I do think this is going to be a tough year for him. He has a lot of points to defend in the summer and he has also pulled out of Miami which is an indicator of his changing schedule. He is playing less tournaments so is not able to pile on as many points and that also means he is not getting the match sharpness. Another important thing, the most important when you look at it, is his children are growing up. The focus is not quite as much on the tennis as it once was and it looks like shaping up to be an interesting year for Federer.

Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1

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Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1, who now serves as a tennis commentator and as a coach for the LTA. He is ESPN.co.uk's resident expert, providing an exclusive view on the world of tennis. Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1, who now serves as a tennis commentator and as a coach for the LTA. He is ESPN.co.uk's resident expert, providing an exclusive view on the world of tennis.