After the second-round Wimbledon loss to Lukas Rosol in five sets in 2012, world no. 2 Rafael Nadal had to skip the action for the next seven months, struggling with a left knee injury that proved to be among the most dangerous ones of his career.
Unable to make a comeback at the beginning of the upcoming season, Rafa hit the court in Vina del Mar in February 2013, opting to embrace the South American Golden Swing and hoping to regain form and momentum 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!
It was the beginning of Nadal's incredible streak in 2013, conquering ten titles overall 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 didn't produce his best tennis that week.
Yet, unlike a week ago when he was two points away from the title, there was no one to stop him this time around, scoring four wins for the 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, reaching the semis.
World no. 111 Martin Alund took a set away from him before Rafa shifted into a higher gear in the decider for a 6-3, 6-7, 6-1 win and the final spot.
In Saou Paulo 2013, Rafael Nadal claimed the first ATP title in eight months.
Things looked much better for the Roland Garros champion, ousting David Nalbandian 6-2, 6-3 in an hour and 18 minutes for the 51st ATP title that gave him a massive boost for the rest of the year.
Controlling his shots nicely, Nadal had more winners than unforced errors and overpowered the Argentine in the shortest and mid-range exchanges to maintain the pace and seal the deal in style. After taking 41% of the return points and breaking Rafa twice from four opportunities, Nalbandian had his chances.
Still, he couldn't materialize on that after landing only 50% of the first serve in, giving away over half of the points in his games and allowing 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 before David netted an easy volley in the sixth game to fall 4-2 down.
The Argentine created a break chance in the next game that Rafa fended off with a powerful forehand, holding with an ace to cement the break and move closer to the opening set. 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. After another break, David extended the advantage that sent him 3-0 up following Nadal's forehand error.
The Spaniard pulled one break back to reduce the deficit to 3-1, held with an ace in game five and leveled the score at 3-3 thanks to David'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.
Serving for the title, Nadal sealed the deal in game nine to secure the sixth consecutive game and a much-needed title after such a long break.