When Rafael Nadal claimed his first title in eight months

Rafael Nadal beat David Nalbandian in the 2013 Sao Paulo final

by Jovica Ilic
When Rafael Nadal claimed his first title in eight months

Rafael Nadal claimed "only" seven ATP titles in 2011 and 2012. Struggling with injuries, Nadal could not add more trophies to his tally following Roland Garros, with extended pauses before lifting more ATP crowns during the following season.

Rafa changed that in Sao Paul 2013, gathering a boost and returning to where he belonged. Nadal experienced a massive loss to Lukas Rosol at Wimbledon 2012 and took a seven-month break to treat his troubled left knee. Unable to make a comeback at the beginning of 2013, Rafa hit the court again in Vina del Mar in February, embracing the South American Golden Swing and hoping to regain form as soon as possible.

Rafa scored three commanding wins and advanced into the final, where he fell to Horacio Zeballos 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 in two hours and 47 minutes! A week later, the Spaniard entered an indoor clay event in Sao Paulo. Rafa went all the way to celebrate his first ATP title in eight months and only the second under a 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 player 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 Brazil.

Unlike a week ago when he was two points away from the title, there was no one to stop him this time, scoring four wins for his first ATP 250 crown on clay 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.

Thus, Nadal reached the semi-final, where world no. 111 Martin Alund took a set away from him before Rafa shifted into a higher gear in the decider for 6-3, 6-7, 6-1. Things looked much better for the Roland Garros champion in the title clash, ousting David Nalbandian 6-2, 6-3 in an hour and 18 minutes for his 51st ATP title and momentum for the rest of the season.

Controlling his shots nicely, Nadal had more winners than unforced errors. Rafael Nadal defeated David Nalbandian in the 2013 Sao Paulo final. He overpowered the Argentine in the shortest and mid-range exchanges to maintain the pace and seal the deal in style.

Nalbandian also had his chances. He took 41% of the return points and broke Rafa twice from four opportunities. However, David failed to materialize on that after landing only 50% of the first serve in. He gave away over half of the points in his games and allowed Nadal to grab five breaks and cross the finish line first.

Both players used indoor conditions to kick off the action with five commanding holds. David netted an easy volley in the sixth game and sent Rafa 4-2 in front. The Argentine earned a break point in the next game, and the Spaniard denied it with a powerful forehand.

Rafa closed the game with an ace and moved closer to grab the opener. Nadal came from 40-0 down on the return in the eighth game to clinch another break and wrap up the set 6-2 after Nalbandian's backhand error. With no room for mistakes, the Argentine broke in the second set's first game and held with a service winner in game two to confirm the lead.

Not stopping there, David produced a double break following Rafa's error in the third game, looking determined to force a decider. The Spaniard pulled one break back instantly to reduce the deficit to 3-1. Nadal held with an ace in game five and leveled the score at 3-3 thanks to Nalbandian's backhand mistake.

With the momentum on his side, Rafa rattled off the fourth straight game to move in front and earned a break at 15 to open a 5-3 gap. The Spaniard sealed the deal in game nine to secure his sixth consecutive game and a much-needed title after such a long break.

Rafael Nadal David Nalbandian