Friday, March 8, 2019 - Rafael Nadal practices during the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California. (Jared Wickerham/BNP Paribas Open)
It’s good to have you back, Rafa.
Three times a champion in at the BNP Paribas Open, the legendary Spaniard will finally get his tournament underway on Sunday evening, playing on the main court of his most successful hard-court Masters 1000 event. He boasts 50 wins across 13 tournaments appearances, including three titles along the way, amounting to an 83% win rate in the southern Californian desert.
Rafael Nadal’s last venture to the tournament was one to forget. Despite making it to the fourth round, he fell in straight sets to storied rival Roger Federer, against whom he had just lost the Australian Open final two months earlier and against whom he would lose the Miami Open final two weeks later. Rafa had certainly seen enough of Roger that year.
On Sunday, he goes up against American wild card Jared Donaldson, who is at the beginning of a slightly bigger comeback of his own.
The 22-year-old American, a surprise package over the past couple years with little junior pedigree but a game and work ethic that has thrived in the pros, hasn’t won (and barely played) a professional match since mid-summer last season. The reason? Debilitating tendinitis in his right knee that put him out until just last month.
Nadal owns a 1-0 record against Donaldson, a 6-1, 6-2 dismantling of the likeable American back in 2017 as he was just bursting on the scene. The 17-time Grand Slam champion’s terrorizing top spin will be tough for a potentially rusty Donaldson to handle, although the latter’s confidence should be high following a straightforward 6-3, 7-5 win over Tatsuma Ito in the first round on Friday.
It’s a tale of two comebacks, both completely different in nearly every way, yet an important match for both as they look start new chapters in the Indian Wells desert.