Rafael Nadal knew something was clicking when he broke par around Larry Ellison’s perfectly manicured personal golf course out in Indian Wells.
With under-green air conditioning, the 18 holes belonging to the third richest man in America – the owner of the BNP Paribas Open – are said to make up one of the best private courses in the world. No wonder Nadal had a daily tee-time arranged.
The Spaniard’s primary focus however was not about smoothness of swing or potency of putting, it was about his return to top-level tennis and the reaction of his troublesome knees to hard courts.
Delighted as we were to see him back at a Masters 1000 tournament for the first time since May 2012, back on the concrete for the first time since last March, few on the eve of this Californian dream of a tournament expected the 26-year-old to get near the final, let alone win it. Some feared he may break down or even lose his opening match to Ryan Harrison
“Surely someone will beat him somewhere but it’s entirely possible he could be unbeaten on the European clay”
His personal preview was delivered with nervous caution, perfectly downplaying his chances. Seven months out of the game with ongoing knee trouble left him talking about “good days and bad days”
But this is Nadal, one of sport’s great competitors, a former number one with all four of the sport’s Grand Slam titles to his name. He can be downbeat into as many microphones as he likes, once he takes the court he growls, grinds, darts and dashes like no other.