The Curious Case of Rafael Nadal’s Absence and Incredible Comeback Continues and in tonight’s quarterfinal he faces defending champion and 5 time Cincinnati titlist, Roger Federer.
Even though Nadal has won twice as many matches against Federer as he has lost, most of those wins have been on clay, and normally, many would have favored Federer against Nadal on the speedier hard court surface of Cincinatti.
Just one year ago in Cincinnati, Roger Federer established a Masters 1000 record by being the first player to win a Masters 1000 tournament without being broken in any game. Along the way, the #1 player in the world, Federer, beat a very good Mardy Fish on that day, an excellent Stan Wawrinka the following day, and in the final, dismantled the #2 in the world, Novak Djokovic, with a bagel set and a tiebreak set to win his record 5th Cincinnati title.
In the meantime Rafael Nadal was in the early stages of his what would be a prolonged 7 month absence from the tour. Prior to Cincinnati last year, he had to withdraw from the 2012 Olympics at Wimbledon and the Toronto edition of the Rogers Cup.
As the months dragged on, many players and fans were wondering not only how long it would take for Nadal to return to action on the tennis court, but how long it would be before he would be competitive with the top players in the game.
During the 2013 Australian Open, former world #1 and 8 time major winner Andre Agassi said:
I found whatever time you take away from the game you need that time to double to be fully where you were when you left, that’s my experience.”
”If he comes back in the first half of the year, you won’t see him at his best, historically speaking with my experience, until this tournament next year.” — Read more
A good example would be the 2009 US Open winner, and world #4 Juan Martin Del Potro, who went out of action after the Australian Open in 2010, not returning until almost October that year after injuring his wrist. But he only played two tournaments in what remained of the year. His ranking dropped down to a low of #485 at the 2011 Australian Open, and he finally returned to the top 10 a year later at the 2012 Australian Open, close to the time frame Andre Agassi indicated.
But incredibly, and some would say miraculously, Rafael Nadal returned to action in early February of 2013 in South America, where he had only fallen to #5 in the world during his absence, and since then has stormed his way through the tour with 8 titles and 2 finals in 11 tournaments, including his eighth Roland Garros, and 4 masters, 2 on hard courts and 2 on clay. His only real “blip” during this time was on the fresh grass of Wimbledon where he was upset in the first round by Steve Darcis. A little over a year after he left the tour, and about 6 months after his return, he has returned to #3 in the world. It is theoretically possible for him to ascend to #1 in the world if he wins in Cincinnati and the US Open.
American veteran Mardy Fish, who is relatively early in his comeback after his heart problems forced him to stop, had this to say after losing to Philipp Kohlschreiber in the first round of Cincinnati this year:
I feel all right, I just have an awful long way to go tennis wise,” said Fish. “It just kind of shows you how amazing Rafa (Nadal) has been coming back after seven months off. To do what he’s done is just not normal.” — Read More
So we have a clearly above normal Nadal playing against a Federer who has said that this is a transition year for him, and who has won a only a single title this year on the grass in Halle and lost in his last 3 tournaments to players ranked 116, 114, and 55.
What will the result of tonight’s match be?
A Roger Federer win in Cincinnati would normally not be considered surprising, but this year is anything but normal. Roger will have to conjure up last year’s form to have a good chance of beating Rafa, or Rafa will have to suddenly fall apart. I don’t see either happening, but on any given day in tennis, anything is possible. If this year’s happenings are any indication, the match should be anything but normal, but one hopes it is entertaining.