In case you were wondering, Rafael Nadal is still the master of clay


Rafael Nadal gave up simply 9 video games as he crushed No. Four-ranked wunderkind Alexander Zverev on Sunday to engineer Spain’s profitable turnaround in its quarterfinal Davis Cup win towards Germany.

Nadal despatched a powerful assertion, if that wasn’t already apparent. This was simply his second match since a hip harm compelled him to stop in the midst of his Australian Open quarterfinal towards Marin Cilic. Nadal’s first match, final Friday, at Davis Cup was an equally persuasive win over a lesser mild, 34-year-old German veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber.

“It’s a great feeling,” Nadal stated after he demolished Kohlschreiber. “Coming back from injuries is always difficult, but it’s great to be in front of my crowd on a very memorable day.”

The 31-year-old, No. 1-ranked Nadal manhandled Zverev, 20, on the sluggish pink clay in Valencia in simply 2 hours, 16 minutes. Some extent price making, as a result of some had been puzzled, and others disgruntled, when Nadal took over the No. 1 rating from Roger Federer final Monday — whereas nonetheless inactive.

That wasn’t a pc glitch or the handiwork of some Nadal-obsessed hacker. Federer was unable to defend the champion’s rankings factors he earned by profitable at Indian Wells and Miami final 12 months. The decline in his 12-month factors whole was sufficient to raise Nadal, who confirmed he was greater than as much as the consideration.

Nadal appeared formidable in Valencia. He used his serve beautifully, inserting it moderately than banging it, as if he had been taking part in darts moderately than residence run derby. All of the acquainted, ritualistic ticks had been there. Earlier than serving, Nadal tugged at his shorts, then, utilizing the fingertips of his proper hand, he grazed in fast succession his left shoulder, proper shoulder, eyebrow, ear, nostril and hair. He wiped and flicked away a bead of perspiration from his forehead.

Nadal was working, make no mistake. That devastating one-two punch of his sliding, large serve to the backhand within the advert court docket, backed by an inside-out forehand winner, received quite a few factors. Physique flexing backward as he belted a forehand, it appeared like he was hitting a heavy object, maybe a medication ball. He was fast and resourceful across the web, unafraid to modify from forehand blast to delicate drop shot mid-swing. As typical, Nadal all the time bought that yet one more ball again over the online to say factors he appeared to have misplaced.

This is one other assertion: The heebee jeebees are gone for good.

Nadal misplaced confidence throughout his droop of 2014-15. He was usually liable to anxiousness as he struggled to reassert himself in 2016, nevertheless it set the stage for his spectacular 2017. Any query of backsliding within the nerve division was laid to relaxation in Valencia. His resolve was regular, his hand agency.

Essentially the most diehard of Nadal followers could not have requested for a extra auspicious return, however the future is probably not fairly as clear because the weekend steered. After the Zverev match, a British interviewer requested Nadal if he was “pain free.”

Nadal grimaced on the query and replied, “That’s difficult [to say] , but I am playing with no limitations.”

You possibly can forgive Nadal for not fully trusting his physique; he is placed on plenty of miles through the years. A few of his accidents appeared to return out of the blue, together with the newest one. One minute he is battling Cilic tooth and nail, then a slight tweak in a leg and — bingo — he is up on the web, wishing Cilic good luck within the Aussie semifinals.

Within the coming weeks, Nadal will face the identical problem that laid low his rival Federer through the U.S. hard-court swing. He should defend a virtually excellent report. Final 12 months, Nadal received three titles and put collectively a 17-match clay-court profitable streak earlier than Dominic Thiem throttled him in Rome. Nadal bounced again and capped the clay season with one other triumph on the French Open. In an effort to keep his rating, he should come near duplicating these outcomes.

But when anyone can go undefeated via a whole calendar phase that includes one Grand Slam and three Masters 1000 occasions, it is Rafael Nadal.

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