In the midst of a career-best 17-0 season start, Rafael Nadal is gunning for his fourth BNP Paribas Open title and a record-tying 37th ATP Masters 1000 trophy, which would level him with Serbia’s Novak Djokovic. We look back on the 35-year-old’s three titles in the desert:
» Nadal was already a three-time Roland Garros titlist when he arrived in the Coachella Valley in 2007, but he was still finding his footing on the hard courts. All but entrenched at No. 2 behind Roger Federer, the Spaniard rose to the occasion, ending an eight-month title drought with a straight-sets takedown of Novak Djokovic, who was making his first appearance in an ATP Masters 1000 final. “The people speak a lot about the changes of my game, but the truth is I’m just Rafael Nadal,” he said. The burgeoning Nadal-Djokovic rivalry was still in its infancy. It was only the second of the 58 matches they have played into 2022 (the Serb holds a slight 30-28 edge in the head-to-heads). “He’s a great competitor, and his great forehand — he was in control,” said Djokovic, who by reaching the final cracked the Top 10 for the first time.
» The world No. 2 had his work cut out for him in ’07, saving five match points to get past Argentine David Nalbandian in a for-the-ages, 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-0 escape act in the Round of 16. He scored three straight Top-10 victories in taking the title, overwhelming Brit Andy Murray in the final amidst 50 mph gusts. “There have been windier days in the Coachella Valley, but not many,” wrote Richard Evans in The Guardian. “I haven’t played in conditions like that in quite some time,” said Murray, who struggled to find any rhythm. “But Rafa dealt with it really well. He hit a cleaner ball and just seemed to get himself into better positions than I did.” Despite missing more than two months with knee problems, Nadal would win five titles on the year, including his sixth career Grand Slam crown (Australian Open) and three Masters 1000 titles.
» The Spaniard returned from a seven-month absence (left knee injury) in 2013 to win 10 titles, including his third at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Nadal took down defending champ Federer in the quarterfinals, 6-4, 6-2, en route to the final, where he would score the 600th match win of his career and his record-breaking 22nd ATP Masters 1000 title. Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro rallied from 0-3, 15-40 to take the first set, and led 3-1 in the second before Nadal reasserted himself. “It’s probably one of the most emotional victories of my career,” said Nadal. “The support since I came back has been huge. It’s an unforgettable week for me and an unforgettable tournament.”