Tennis: Nadal leaves injury misery behind to seal shock glory
Published 19/03/2013 | 05:00
In the era of the 'Big Four' men, and their combined total of 34 Grand Slams, it takes a lot to impress modern tennis fans.
Yet Rafael Nadal shocked everyone – including himself – by powering his way to the Indian Wells title.
Whatever the expectations of Nadal's comeback, few would have backed him to steam through a full-strength field, particularly on the sort of unyielding concrete courts that have always inflicted maximum damage on his sensitive knees.
"A lot of things happened during the last seven months," the Spaniard said after beating Juan Martin del Potro 4-6 6-3 6-4 in the final. "To be back here and to have this very heavy trophy with me is amazing."
The result was full of statistical resonance as Nadal now stands clear of the field with 22 Masters titles – one more than Roger Federer.
The Spaniard's latest victory was his 600th at ATP level – a figure that has a practical relevance. It means that, from the start of next season, he qualifies for tennis' answer to the senior citizen's bus pass, and can skip one of the year's nine mandatory Masters events without being penalised.
For the moment, too, Nadal has moved to the top of the tree in terms of winning percentage. His 600 wins make up 83pc of his 723 matches, putting him a sliver ahead of Bjorn Borg on 82.7pc.
This position could change yet again, for most players become less consistent towards the end of their careers. Supporters of John McEnroe, for instance, can point out that Borg surpassed their own idol (81.5pc) only because he walked away from the sport while he was still just 26 and at his peak, whereas McEnroe retired in 1992, eight years after his final Grand Slam title.
However, you would have to imagine that Nadal will probably finish ahead of his long-term rival Federer (also 81.5pc) on this measure.
The delicate question of who is the greatest of all time continues to hang in the balance. These two icons faced each other in an anticlimactic quarter-final last Thursday, which Nadal won easily with the help of Federer's bad back.
But even if that match disappointed, the rest of last week's storyline was so gripping, and its denouement so unlikely, that it could have been a movie script.
Nadal had spent seven months off the tour to give his painful left knee a chance to recover.
And here he was covering a huge amount of ground and firing off a stream of winners. Del Potro was physically overpowered by a man who – just two months ago – had been written off as a busted flush. (© Daily Telegraph, London)