After the second-round loss to Lukas Rosol in five sets at Wimbledon 2012, world no. 2 Rafael Nadal was forced to skip the next seven months, struggling with a left knee injury that proved to be one of the most dangerous ones of his career.
Unable to make a comeback at the beginning of the new season, Rafa hit the court again in Vina del Mar in February 2013, opting to embrace the South American Golden Swing and hoping to regain form and momentum as soon as possible on his beloved clay.
Scoring three commanding wins, Rafa was in another final on his favorite surface but couldn't win the title, suffering a massive 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 loss to Horacio Zeballos in two hours and 47 minutes. A week later, the Spaniard entered an indoor clay event in Sao Paulo, heading all the way to celebrate the first ATP title in eight months and only the second under the roof after Madrid 2005!
Taking a week off, the Spaniard was back in action in Acapulco, returning to Mexico for the first time in eight years, winning the title there at 18 in 2005. Rafa stood above the rest of the field as a teenager and it was the same scenario in 2013, dropping 25 games in ten sets to lift the 52nd ATP title and the second in three weeks.
The reigning Roland Garros champion did everything right on both serve and return, suffering only one break and having the upper hand on rivals' serve to race towards the finish line and dethrone the three-time champion David Ferrer.
In the first round, the young Argentine Diego Schwartzman fell 6-2, 6-2 in 68 minutes, stealing Nadal's serve once but getting broken five times to propel world no. 5 through. In round two, Rafa dismissed another Argentine Martin Alund 6-0, 6-4, fending off all three break chances and earning four return games to dominate to start to finish and advance into the quarters where he faced the third Argentine ranked outside the top-70, Leonardo Mayer.
The clash lasted an hour and 41 minutes, with Mayer challenging Rafa in set number two before losing ground in the closing stages to push the Spaniard into the semis. There, it was all about the Spanish Armada, with Ferrer moving closer to the fourth straight Acapulco crown and facing the ultimate challenge after Nadal ousted Nicolas Almagro 7-5, 6-4 in an hour and 49 minutes.
Rafa grabbed only five points more than his rival in what was the hardest obstacle for him that week, repelling all four break chances and delivering one break in each set to advance into the final against world no. 4 Ferrer.
Interestingly, David was ranked ahead of Rafa but no one could have noticed that in the title match on March 2, with Nadal scoring a dominant 6-0, 6-2 triumph in 65 minutes, the most impressive one out of all 26 against his great friend over the years.
Rafa lost 12 points in seven service games, erasing both break chances offered to Ferrer and taking almost 60% of the return points to notch five breaks from eight opportunities, leaving the defending champion far behind and taking the trophy away from him.
Hitting less than ten winners and 20 unforced errors, David never stood a chance against such a strong rival who tamed his shots nicely to finish the job with more winners than unforced errors on his tally, having the edge in the shortest exchanges and destroying Ferrer in more extended ones to cross the finish line in no time at all.
Nadal broke in the very first game following a loose forehand from Ferrer, cementing the break after another forehand mistake from the older Spaniard in game two and embracing a 3-0 advantage thanks to more forehand miscues from David who was yet to find his best tennis.
Rafa saved a break point in game four and brought the game home with a service winner, delivering another break with a forehand winner and clinching the opener with a hold at 15 in game six when Ferrer netted a forehand, serving a bagel and hoping for more of the same in set number two.
There, Rafa broke at 15 in the first game to extend his streak, landing a service winner for a 6-0, 2-0 advantage and racing towards the finish line. David finally held in the third game to avoid a complete disaster, earning a break chance in the next game that he squandered with a backhand error, paying the price in the next game when the net caught his forehand again to fall 4-1 down.
Staying focused and composed, Nadal held at 15 to stay two breaks up, serving for the title at 5-2. Three winners pushed Rafa over the edge, finishing the job with a backhand down the line winner that grabbed the second Acapulco title for him and gave him a massive boost ahead of Indian Wells and the rest of 2013.