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Grand Slam king Rafael Nadal off to best start to a season in his career

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Rafael Nadal stood in the middle of Rod Laver Arena in January, on what he described as one of the most emotional nights of his tennis career. The crowd cheered, on its feet, in the background as Nadal occasionally paused to hold back tears on a warm Australian evening.

 

 

Three months earlier, before he claimed a record 21st Grand Slam singles title, a chronic foot injury had Nadal at least pondering retirement. He had won Roland Garros in 2020 but at various points last year he could barely walk.

Nadal played just seven events in 2021, missing Wimbledon, the Tokyo Olympics, the U.S. Open and the BNP Paribas Open, which was moved from March to October. His last event of the year was in Washington, D.C., in August.

This week, the Spanish tennis star enters the BNP Paribas Open as a clear favorite, riding the best start to a year of his career. After ending last year prematurely due to that hobbled left foot, Nadal is now 15-0 and has won all three tournaments he’s entered.

“It seems like he’s on his like eighth life in tennis with all the injuries,” said Tennis Channel analyst Lindsay Davenport, a three-time Grand Slam singles champion. “His foot was so bad last year. I remember watching him in the hallway in Roland Garros where there’s some cameras after he lost that match to Novak, barely being able to walk. That was like, ‘Wow, his foot must really be hurt,’ and his team helping him up those stairs, I’m thinking, ‘Wow, I didn’t know he was that hurt.’”

Nadal, 35, will play at Indian Wells on Saturday or Sunday in what could be the first step toward another tournament title in the California desert. Nadal has won three singles championships at Indian Wells — in 2007, 2009 and 2013 — where he’s reached the semifinals 10 times.

Following five months away with the injury, Nadal wasn’t sure he’d be ready for the Australian Open. He went to Melbourne anyway, and began his year with four consecutive wins against players outside the top 50 to claim the Melbourne Summer Set title.

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