Nadal Returns To Familiar No. 1 World Ranking, Still With Passion And Love For The Game

Rafael Nadal – new World No. 1

WASHINGTON, August 21, 2017 (by Michael Dickens)

Rafael Nadal returns to a familiar place at the top of world of men’s professional tennis today, World No. 1. While it’s something everyone who follows tennis has known would happen for the past week – and it may only last for a few weeks – still, it is a remarkable achievement.

Nadal’s ascent from No. 2 to No. 1 became a certainty when Roger Federer was forced to withdraw from the ATP Masters 1000 Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, Ohio, with a back injury. The long-time rivals were expected to battle for the top of the Emirates ATP Rankings in the last major hard-court tune-up before the U.S. Open starts next week.

“For me personally, obviously to be back to that position is something special,” said Nadal, during a press conference before he played his first match in Cincinnati last week. “A lot of things have happened since the last time I was in this spot. Injuries and some tough moments, of course, but I have held the passion and the love for the game, and that’s why I have the chance to be back in that position again. So I’m just trying to enjoy the moment and just trying to be ready to compete well here. That’s the most important thing for me now.”

In recent years, injuries to Nadal began to take their toll – the wear and tear he puts on his body was clearly evident – and between 2012 and 2015, he lost every year at Wimbledon to a player ranked No. 100 or lower. Plus, his 2015 quarterfinal loss to Novak Djokovic in straight sets, 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 – his first ever at Roland Garros – after winning nine French Open titles was an emotional drain on Nadal, who is second all-time with 15 Grand Slam singles titles.

Fast forward to this year and despite his 6-2, 7-5 quarterfinal loss to Nick Kyrgios on Friday night in Cincinnati, Nadal has overtaken Andy Murray for World No. 1. Murray has been idle with a hip injury since losing to Sam Querrey in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. It continues Rafa’s incredible comeback season in 2017 after he cut short his 2016 season early due to an injury to his left wrist.

The 31-year-old Spaniard arrived at the Western & Southern Open as the top seed, and it was at the Cincinnati Masters where he won the 2013 title. Earlier this year, he won four tournaments, including Roland Garros, Monte-Carlo and Barcelona, each one for the 10th time. He also reached three other finals, including the Australian Open and Miami. Nadal leads the ATP World Tour with seven final appearances. “I am having a great season,” he said.

More recently, Nadal has struggled to duplicate his clay-court success of earlier this season. At Wimbledon, he lost to Gilles Muller in the round of 16 in a match that was highlighted by an epic 15-13 score in the fifth set that eked out victory for Mueller. Then, Nadal was upset by wild card Denis Shapovalov in the round of 16 at Montréal earlier this month. Last week in Cincinnati, he beat Richard Gasquet and Albert Ramos-Vinolas, both in straight sets, before being upset by Kyrgios.

Nadal will arrive at this year’s U.S. Open sporting a 49-9 win-loss record, a No. 1 world ranking, and the top seed in an injury depleted but still talented men’s field. How deep he goes in this year’s U.S. Open is always a matter of the luck of the draw – and the last three years he’s not advanced past the round of 16. Still, he’s won it all twice at Flushing Meadows, in 2010 and 2013, and as he goes after his 16th Grand Slam title, no doubt he’ll be a popular crowd favorite.

In looking back at past history, Nadal spent 141 total weeks at No. 1, which ranks as the seventh most all-time. He was just age 22 the first time he was ranked No. 1.

In reclaiming the World No. 1 ranking by 495 points over Murray, it’s the first time Nadal has been on top in the Emirates ATP Rankings since July 6, 2014. This marks the fourth different time that Nadal has been ranked No. 1 in his career, and it gives him the record for the longest gap between debut at No. 1 (Aug. 18, 2008) and most recent date at No. 1 (Aug. 21, 2017).

There is plenty of tennis for Nadal left to play this year, beginning with the U.S. Open. Then, during a busy October, he’s scheduled to play twice in Asia as well as in Basel, Switzerland. Plus, there’s two more Masters 1000 tournaments remaining, in Shanghai and Paris, prior to the ATP World Tour Finals in London. And, you can’t rule out the possibility that Federer could re-take No. 1 before the end of the year.

“Roger and I are both having a great season,” said Nadal in Cincinnati. “I think both of us are going to have the chance to be in that position until the end of the season. It depends on the results.”

In a year full of surprises, Nadal is enjoying a wonderful season. Maybe, not his greatest season, but his return to World No. 1 has made everyone take notice what he has accomplished. I wouldn’t write him off just yet.