The fist pump was back, along with the crunching forehand crosscourt winners, energetic movement and the never-say-say-die attitude.
Most significantly, the “W” was there as Rafael Nadal on Sunday won his third title in just four events since making his long-awaited return to the ATP Tour after seven months out with an injured left knee.
The Spaniard’s pulsating 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Juan Martin del Potro in the final of the BNP Paribas Open served as a timely reminder that the clay-court specialist will once again be the player to beat at the French Open starting in late May.
Nadal was euphoric after winning his third Indian Wells title, having dispatched second-ranked Federer and sixth-seeded Czech Tomas Berdych along the way.
“That makes an emotional week for me,” the 11-time Grand Slam singles champion said after beating 2009 US Open champion Del Potro, the seventh seed, in a fluctuating match lasting 2 hours, 29 minutes.
“It’s a very important victory for me, winning against the best players of the world on a surface that is good for them. Seriously, it’s impossible to have better comeback, no?” he said.
Nadal will now take a month off while he strengthens his left leg on the advice of his doctors.
He will then return to action on the clay of Monte Carlo, followed by Barcelona, Madrid and Rome, as he prepares to win his eighth French Open title in nine years.
Meanwhile, Maria Sharapova earned her first title of the year after a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Caroline Wozniacki in the women’s final. It was her second title at Indian Wells following her triumph in 2006.
“I don’t think I have gray hairs yet,” she quipped when asked to compare the victories.
“As the years go by, I’m just still very lucky that I’m here and that I’m still doing it, and that I still love it and have the passion to do it,” Sharapova added.
The Russian looks poised to join the battle for the world No. 1 spot as her run to Sunday’s final ensured she will supplant Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka as No. 2 in the world, behind Serena Williams.