Rafael Nadal Climb Back to World No.1

A year ago, while the eight best tennis players on active service were contesting the ATP World Tour Finals in London, Rafael Nadal was at home in Mallorca, wrestling with the slim, if dreaded, prospect of having to quit tennis at 26. On Wednesday, the Spaniard was king of the mountain for the third time in his career and looking as relieved as he was ecstatic.

A two-set victory over the resurgent Stanislas Wawrinka in two hours and 12 minutes, 7-6, 7-6, not only put Nadal in the semi-finals but ensured he will end 2013 with the world No1 ranking he snatched from Novak Djokovic a month ago in China, ending the Serb’s reign of 101 weeks.

Nadal missed the finals last year, having withdrawn from the Tour to recuperate after his shock loss to Lukas Rosol at Wimbledon, and his return (after another early exit at the All England Club, against Steve Darcis) has astonished even his fiercest rivals. It has surprised him a little, too.

“I was at home,” he said of his 2012 November. “I had doubts. Everyone has doubts in life. Thoughts about the future, then? Just to focus on my recovery, focus on trying to find a solution for my knee, working every day. I was not 100% at the beginning [of his comeback in February] and I flew to Viña del Mar [in Chile] without the best feeling but I was able to play again and here we are after 10 months, so I’m very happy for everything.”

As Wawrinka walked from the court on Wednesday, still winless against Nadal after six years of trying, it was the Spaniard who led the applause that filled the O2 Arena. The Swiss is 28, four years younger than his compatriot Roger Federer, and playing with the elite here for the first time. In two matches, he has shown he is well worth his place, even if he paid dearly for some ragged ground strokes at key moments.

The world No6, Tomas Berdych, was his 50th victim of the year when they opened this tournament on Monday, to go with seven other top-10 wins on Stan’s 2013 hit list, including Andy Murray in Monte Carlo and at Flushing Meadows.

But old uncertainties returned against Nadal when Wawrinka was confronted by their mutual history. Not only had he never beaten a world No 1 in 14 attempts, he had not taken a set off Nadal in 11 matches (discounting a long-forgotten win when he was 13). He had to wait half an hour before his first break point – and it was cruel to watch him squander two chances with his normally killer backhand.

He took his next chance, though, to level at 5-5. Serving to stay in the set at 5-6, Nadal found a little extra, then took the tie-break with a unreachable passing shot when Wawrinka stumbled at the net.

A 28-shot rally at 30-all in the 12th game of the second set kept Wawrinka in the match and the players then went to a second tie-break.

Again he took Nadal to the wire but a limp forehand rattled the net at 6-6 and the deed was done.

While Wawrinka’s case for being considered the most dangerous Swiss in tennis right now is a sound one, Federer is still the draw – above everyone, despite sliding to No 7 in the world.

Shortly after the afternoon singles, he was being cheered and garlanded with three gongs: the fans’ favourite (a given), the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of the Year Award and the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award.

Would he trade them all to be No1 again? That would be impolite. And wholly unlikely.

Popups Powered By :
Return to Top ▲Return to Top ▲