Rafa Nadal gave the tennis world a stark reminder of what they had missed for seven months last year with a superb display at the BNP Paribas Open on Saturday.
In only his fourth match on hard courts since he returned to the ATP circuit last month after being sidelined with a left knee injury, the Spaniard overcame sixth-seed Tomas Berdych 6-4, 7-5 in the semi-finals at Indian Wells.
He broke the Czech once to take the opening set, then won a tense second set to improve his record this year to a career-best 16-1, having won two ATP titles on the clay of South America last month.
Nadal hit crisp and deep ground strokes to keep Berdych under continual pressure and occasionally unleashed his trademark inside-out forehand crosscourt winner.
“When you are out for a long period of time, is difficult to come back and to understand how to win the points another time, how to manage the important situations,” Nadal told reporters after sealing the win.
“Victories like today, like the other day, help you a lot for the confidence and to remember, you know, all the things that you have to do in every moment,” he said.
The opening set went with serve until the seventh game when Berdych double faulted, hit a forehand long and dumped a forehand into the net to trail 0-40.
Though the Czech saved the first two break points on forehand errors by fifth seed Nadal, he lost the game on the third when he blasted a forehand wide as he eyed a winner down the line.
The Spaniard served out to take the set in 42 minutes.
Both players held serve until the eighth game of the second set when Nadal, despite getting a favorable net cord bounce as he tried to save his first break point of the match, double-faulted to trail 3-5.
However, the Spaniard immediately broke back, after Berdych hit a forehand long, before holding to level the score at 5-5.
Nadal then broke the Czech for a third time in the 11th, squandering his first break point at 30-40, but taking advantage of the second when Berdych mistimed an overhead.
The tension mounted as Nadal served for the match in the 12th game, coming back from 0-30 down and saving three break points before sealing victory on his second match point when Berdych pushed a backhand wide.
In the other semi-final, Juan Martin del Potro stunned Novak Djokovic to end the World No. 1’s 22-match winning streak.
Del Potro defeated Djokovic 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, ending the Serbian’s winning streak that had stretched back to Oct. 31 last year.
Down a set, the determined Argentine broke Djokovic to open the second, but it proved a see-saw affair featuring five breaks of serve.
Djokovic appeared to have regrouped when he sped to a 3-0 lead in the third with one break of serve, but Del Potro broke back to narrow the gap to 3-2.
While Del Potro was unable to convert two break chances in the seventh game, he came through in the ninth.
A forehand to the corner gave him a second break point in the game, and when Djokovic sailed a backhand long, Del Potro was serving for the match.
He polished it off in style, with an ace.