Rafa Nadal is the King of Clay, so when he won two clay court titles this year, no one raised more than one eyebrow. He may have been coming off a major injury, but he is still Rafa, after all.
“Wait until he hits a hard court,” many people said.
That wait is over. Tonight, Rafa took down the title at Indian Wells and proved he is indeed back, no matter the surface.
It was late last Thursday night in the middle of the California desert when Roger Federer looked across the Indian Wells court at Rafa with a look that said, “I thought you were supposed to be injured.”
Longtime rivals and fierce competitors, Nadal and Federer met in an unlikely quarterfinal match at the BNP Paribas Open. It had been a long time since they had met on the court and even longer since the match was so early in the tournament. But Nadal’s seven-month injury layoff had dropped him to #5 in the world rankings, and his tourney seedings were no longer as friendly.
It didn’t matter. After winning two straight clay court titles on the Latin American tour, Nadal showed up for his hard court comeback with a fire Federer recognized. It was over in two sets, the latter of which Nadal dominated.
Two days later, Nadal dispatched Tomas Berdych in two sets and put himself in position to win his third Indian Wells title.
Tonight, Nadal faced off against Juan Martín del Potro in the finals. Del Potro was riding a high of his own after defeating Andy Murray and top-ranked Novak Djokovic. It took three sets–the first of which Nadal lost–but Nadal did it, winning his first hard court title since coming back from his injury
If you’re wondering what in the world is all this doing on a poker blog, this is why: last summer, Rafa decided he would try his hand at learning poker. He signed on as a sports ambassador for PokerStars and set about learning to play the game. The timing couldn’t have been better. Just a few weeks after putting the PokerStars spade on his chest, Rafa succumbed to the knee injury. It gave him a lot of time to work on playing poker. He won his first online poker tournament in January.
Now, however, his poker hours may have to be cut back a bit. He’s proven he can again win against top competition on both the clay and hard court.
Congrats, Rafa, on another great performance.
Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging