Rafaen Nadal's Indian Wells Return Turns Into Nighttime Spectacle

Rafael Nadal will play on March 7 in the night session

by Jovica Ilic
Rafaen Nadal's Indian Wells Return Turns Into Nighttime Spectacle
© Facebook - Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal will chase his 60th Indian Wells victory on Thursday, March 7, during the night session! The draw is not even out, and the organizers have already revealed the timing of Rafa's first match in the desert, returning to the season's first Masters 1000 event after skipping it a year ago.

The veteran will compete at one of his favorite hard-court events for the 16th time, winning three titles between 2007 and 2013. Ranked 654th, Nadal will start his Indian Wells campaign in the first round for the first time since 2004, when he made a winning debut at 17.

If he passes the first obstacle, a 22-time Major winner could draw Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz, Daniil Medvedev, Jannik Sinner or any other rival from the top.

Carlos Alcaraz and Rafael Nadal© Getty Images Sport - Clive Brunskill

Rafa has played only seven matches since the beginning of 2023, struggling with a hip injury and hoping to leave it behind in Indian Wells after skipping the Australian Open and Doha.

Nadal played well in Indian Wells two years ago, and everything worked well for him in the first part of the season. The Spaniard claimed the Australian Open and Roland Garros titles, standing on 22 Major trophies and leaving Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic behind.

Nadal's streak at Majors ended in the Wimbledon semi-final, withdrawing before facing Nick Kyrgios and revealing an abdominal injury. Feeling far from his best, Rafa played only a couple of matches by the end of the year, missing a chance to become world no.

1 at 36. Nadal expected a better run at the beginning of 2023, but things only worsened! Entering the season with no form or his usual confidence, Rafa lost two United Cup matches after winning the opening set. He tried to raise his level at the Australian Open and chase the title defense, although he knew it was impossible.

The veteran beat the young Briton Jack Draper in the first round and faced Mackenzie McDonald in the second. Rafa injured his left hip in the closing stages of the second set, enduring until the end but revealing severe harm that would cause the most extended break of his career.

Rafa underwent surgery in June and missed the rest of the season, enjoying the summer with his family and friends before returning to the practice court and gym.

Rafael Nadal, Indian Wells 2013© Stephen Dunn / Staff - Getty Images Sport

Rafael Nadal will play his first Indian Wells match on March 7.

Feeling good vibes and training without significant issues, Nadal set his long-awaited comeback for the first week of 2024, entering the ATP 250 event in Brisbane.

Rafa played his first match in 349 days against Dominic Thiem and competed at a high level, especially from the closing stages of the opening set. The Spaniard repeated that against Jason Kubler, outplaying his rival on serve and return and moving into the quarter-final.

Nadal battled against Jordan Thompson and experienced a blow, squandering three match points in a 5-7, 7-6, 6-3 defeat after three hours and 25 minutes! The Aussie prevailed in the second set, and the Spaniard could not respond in the decider, feeling the pain around his troubled hip and asking for a medical timeout.

Rafa and his team traveled to Melbourne, undergoing an MRI and revealing a micro tear in his muscle. Thus, a two-time champion chose to skip the Australian Open, not risking even more serious injury in the best-of-five duels, especially after missing almost a year.

Nadal returned to Mallorca and took a break for a couple of weeks before resuming training. As it turned out, Rafa experienced a minor discomfort in the troubled area, practicing but deciding to skip Doha and preserve his body for Indian Wells and the upcoming clay swing.

First, Nadal will embrace a cracker against Carlos Alcaraz in Las Vegas before playing his first Masters 1000 match since Paris 2022. Rafa almost claimed his fourth Indian Wells title two years ago.

Rafael Nadal, Brisbane 2024© Chris Hyde / Stringer - Getty Images Sport

He beat Sebastian Korda, Daniel Evans, Reilly Opelka, Nick Kyrgios and Carlos Alcaraz after a thriller en route to the final.

Nadal fractured his rib in the semi-final and could not challenge Taylor Fritz, falling 6-3, 7-6 and allowing the American to celebrate his first Masters 1000 title. It was Rafa's first loss of the season, missing a chance to lift a trophy in the desert after nine years.

Taylor played with the pain in his ankle, refusing to surrender and prevailing in the second set to seal the deal in straight sets. Fritz clinched ten points more than Nadal and denied eight out of ten break chances. Two breaks were not enough to keep Rafa in contention after getting broken four times from nine opportunities offered to his rival.

Despite a valiant effort in the second set, he finished on the losing side, staying on 36 Masters 1000 titles. Fritz had the upper hand in the shortest exchanges and tamed his strokes more efficiently, emerging as a deserved champion.

Nadal is not thinking about winning the title this year. However, he wants to play as many matches as possible, seeking form ahead of his favorite clay swing in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and Paris if he decides to play them all.

Rafa will throw everything at two events in Paris in what might be his final season on the Tour, wishing to chase his 15th Roland Garros crown and the Olympic gold medal.

Indian Wells Rafael Nadal