Rafael Nadal had been sidelined between Wimbledon 2012 and February 2013 due to a left knee injury and he returned on his beloved clay in Vina del Mar, losing a close final against Horacio Zeballos. In the following three weeks, Rafa won Sao Paulo and Acapulco and he was ready to play at his best again, winning Indian Wells, Barcelona, Madrid and Rome, also losing in the final of Monte Carlo for 44 wins in the first 46 matches of the season.
The best was yet to come, with titles in Montreal and Cincinnati to enter the US Open as world number 2 and one of the favorites. Just like in 2010, the Spaniard had brought a full package of amazing serving and strong groundstroke from both wings, saving all six break points in the opening five matches to sail into the semi-final where he defeated Richard Gasquet to set the third US Open title match against Novak Djokovic in the last four years.
Novak was too strong in 2011 but Nadal was the player now, scoring a 6-2 3-6 6-4 6-1 win in three hours and 21 minutes for his 60th ATP crown and the 13th Major overall, moving just one behind Pete Sampras. This was the 22nd triumph from 22 matches for Rafa on hard courts in 2013 and he earned it after a better performance on serve and also in the crucial points, saving eight out of 11 break points and stealing Novak's serve six times from 11 opportunities.
They had a similar number of service winners (only 35 from 223 points overall) and Novak had more winners from the court, especially outplaying Rafa with his forehand. On the other hand, that aggression drew too many errors and Nadal claimed the win after taming his shots in a more efficient way, having an upper hand in the shortest and longest rallies to cross the finish line in four sets and celebrate the second Grand Slam title of the season.
Rafa drew first blood in the third game after a forehand winner and he held in game four after a deuce to move 3-1 ahead. Djokovic sent a forehand long in game seven to lose serve at love and fall 5-2 down and the opening set was in Nadal's hands after 42 minutes following another forehand error from the Serb in the eighth game.
The Spaniard fends off two break points in the second game of the second set but Novak found the way to break him in game six after an incredible 55-shot rally that sent him 4-2 up! His lead was a short-lived one, with Nadal breaking back in game seven when he forced an error from Novak but the Serb fought back, scoring another break in game eight with a backhand winner to open up a 5-3 lead.
Serving for the set, Novak painted a backhand down the line winner to take the set 6-3 and level the overall score after an hour and 40 minutes. Carried by this momentum, Novak opened the third set with a break at love and he held with an ace to increase his lead to 2-0.
Rafa saved a break point in game three to end his downfall and he pulled the break back in game six after a poor backhand from Novak, leveling the score at 3-3 and building the confidence before the rest of the set. In one of the most important games of the entire championship, Rafa fends off three break points at 4-4, bringing the game home with a smash winner to gain a huge boost and forcing an error from Novak in game 10 to steal the set after two hours and 40 minutes and move closer to the title.
Djokovic had two break points at the start of the fourth set but he failed to convert any, paying the price in the following game when Rafa blasted a forehand down the line winner to move 2-0 up, looking better and better as the match progressed.
Another backhand winner sent Nadal 3-0 in front and he made another nice hold at 3-1 to stay ahead and come two games away from the crown. Novak lost his ground completely and he suffered another break in game six, netting a forehand in the following game to hand the title to Rafa who fell to the ground in disbelief, standing at the top of the tennis world just seven months after he returned to the court after that nasty knee injury.
By the end of the season, the Spaniard played only four tournaments but he did enough to secure the year-end number 1 place in one of his most impressive seasons ever giving the circumstances. ALSO READ: Live ATP Rankings: Rafael Nadal is 1500 points clear of Roger Federer