Rafael Nadal claimed the seventh Roland Garros title in the last eight years in 2012 to extend his dominant run in Paris. Unlike the previous years, Rafa did not play well at the All England Club a few weeks later, suffering a shocking second-round loss at Wimbledon to Lukas Rosol in five sets.
Struggling with a left knee injury, Rafa missed the next seven months, experiencing one of the most challenging periods of his career and returning in February 2013. Skipping the Australian Open, Nadal hit the court in Vina del Mar in February, embracing the South American Golden Swing and hoping to regain form and momentum on his beloved clay.
Scoring three commanding wins, Rafa reached the final on his favorite surface but could not 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!
It was the beginning of Nadal's incredible streak in 2013, conquering ten titles and finishing as the year-end no. 1 for the first time in three years. Still not at 100% and with a roof above his head, Rafa did not produce his best tennis in Sao Paulo.
Yet, unlike a week ago when he was two points away from the title, there was no one to stop him, scoring four wins for the first clay-court ATP 250 crown since Bastad 2005! Following a solid victory over Joao Sousa, Rafa needed two and a half hours to prevail against Carlos Berlocq 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 en route to the semis.
World no. 111 Martin Alund took a set before Rafa shifted into a higher gear in the decider for a 6-3, 6-7, 6-1 win and a place in the title clash.
In Sao Paulo 2013, Rafael Nadal claimed the first ATP title in eight months.
Things looked much better for the Roland Garros champion, who ousted David Nalbandian 6-2, 6-3 in an hour and 18 minutes for the 51st ATP title that gave him a massive boost.
Controlling his shots nicely, Nadal had more winners than unforced errors and overpowered the Argentine in the shortest and mid-range exchanges to seal the deal in style. David had his chances for a more favorable result, taking 41% of the return points and delivering two breaks from four opportunities.
Still, that proved insufficient after serving at only 50% and giving away over half of the points in his games. Nadal earned five breaks, controlled the scoreboard and sealed the deal in style. Both players used indoor conditions to kick off the action with five commanding holds.
David netted an easy volley in the sixth game to fall 4-2 down and send Rafa ahead. The Argentine created a break chance in the next one, and the Spaniard fended it off with a powerful forehand before holding with an ace to cement the break.
From 40-0 down in the next game, Nadal took five straight points for another break and 6-2 when Nalbandian sprayed a backhand error. With no room for mistakes, the Argentine broke in the second set's first game and held with a service winner to confirm the lead.
David grabbed another break that sent him 3-0 ahead, looking good to force a decider after Rafa's forehand mistake. In game four, the Spaniard pulled one break back to reduce the deficit and held in game five with an ace. Serving at 3-2, Nalbandian sprayed a backhand error to lose the advantage and shift a boost to the other side.
Rafa rattled off the fourth straight game to move 4-3 up and earned a break at 15 to open a 5-3 gap and extend his streak. Serving for the title in game nine, Nadal rattled off the sixth straight game and sealed the deal to lift a much-needed title after such a long break from tennis.