Last year’s French Open champs, Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova, proved that they’re ready for anything this season with their big wins this weekend at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. Maria slaughtered the perennially under-gunned Caroline Wozniacki 6-2, 6-2 to take her first title since her unexpected victory at Roland Garros. It’s not quite a major, and she avoided Azarenka and Serena in the process, but Maria demonstrated as always that when it’s hers to win, she’ll take it. Now onto the next one:
Rafael Nadal may have come into this tournament on a win streak earned on the South American clay, but he was still working the underdog mojo going into this tournament. Having not won a hard court tournament since Tokyo, 2010, (!!!!) and coming back from a seven month injury layoff, winning the “fifth major” on the courts of Indian Wells was no gimme. After struggling past Gulbis, trouncing (an albeit injured) Fed in the quarters, continuing to dominate Berdych in the semis and fighting back against the big hitting Del Potro to win in three sets in the final, there can be no doubt that the Spaniard is primed to take his place in the top 4 (if not the top 2) and start dominating the season’s trophy stands. I mean, seriously, no hard court trophies for over two years, tons of complaints about how hard the surface is on the body and he comes back and makes it look easy. “Amazing,” indeed, to quote Del Potro.
I wonder if the rest of the guys are slightly embarrassed – come on, fellas, you can’t just let Rafa waltz back and claim all the surfaces, can you? Rafa’s performance since his return reminds me a little of Serena Williams and the way she’s been able to return to dominance after lengthy injury breaks – and in her case we’ve always wondered about the strength of the field. What do you think Rafa’s success says about the rest of the ATP – if anything? It was disappointing that Nadal didn’t face Novak Djokovic in the final – Nole being the ultimate test on hard courts these days – but if anything this rivalry, interrupted, just builds the tension and excitement for the clay court season. Rafa did it on hardcourts – can Nole best him on the clay?
Oh, and this ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title just happens to be Rafa’s 22nd, a new record on tour. Even he sounds excited by it all:
“A lot of things happened the last seven months, [so] to be back here and to have this very heavy trophy with me is amazing,” said Nadal. “Beating three Top 10 players and winning a title like this is just something unbelievable for me. I’m very, very happy and very emotional.” (via ATP)
As Steve Tignor points out, we’ve been through this narrative before with Rafa – on top of the tour – off the tour – triumphant return. The only question that remains unanswered after this week is – how long will this particular cycle last? Rafa is skipping Miami to join Roger on the rest and recovery circuit, so he seems to be willing to do what’s needed to keep the body fresher, longer.
How’s this for a surprise (at least to me): The all-time-doubles-titlists the Bryan brothers have never won what is basically their home tournament at Indian Wells – until this weekend! They took out the snazzily named team of Treat Huey and Jerzy Janowicz in a dramatic 6-3, 3-6, 10-6 scoreline. (Seriously, those names sound straight out of this Thomas Pynchon novel I’m reading). Mike Bryan said it was a long time coming: “There was a sense of urgency to do it now. Back when we lost the final in 2003, I thought we would have a ton of shots at it.” (via ATP). Congrats, Mike and Bob! Delayed gratification feels great, doesn’t it?
The team of Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina beat Nadia Petrova and Katarina Srebotnik 6-0, 5-7, 10-6 to take the women’s doubles trophy on Saturday.
So now we’re on to Miami, which I have come to think of as Serena’s and Andy Murray’s tournament. I wonder how they’ll fare? And how awkward will the men’s draw be without Roger or Rafa in it?