Clay will always be home for Rafael Nadal.
It's the surface the Spanish tennis star grew up playing on, and the one which he has conquered time and time again as a professional. That's why his comeback from an injured left knee hinges on his clay-court success in 2013.
Rafa will begin his comeback this month on the clay in Chile, the site of the 2013 ATP VTR Open, where he'll take part in singles and double action in an effort to get back to where he was nearly a year ago.
The king of clay, Nadal has won 93 percent of his career matches on the surface—including seven French Open titles—which is more than any other men's player in the Open era. And only Bjorn Borg has won as many consecutive championships (four) at Roland Garros.
Playing on clay through this winter and into the spring will allow Nadal to regain crucial confidence while playing on a surface much less physically demanding than hard courts.
Nadal won't experience nearly as much wear and tear on his knees while sliding around on the clay. Plus, since clay plays much slower than hard or grass surfaces, Rafa will be able to work his way back to top form much faster.
Longer rallies mean more shots and more confidence gained for Nadal.
It's likely that his knee will never be 100 percent, not when considering the demand elite tennis puts on a player's body. With that in mind, the clay provides Rafa with the best opportunity to revive his game while at the same time rejuvenating his body.
Before he can succeed on faster hard courts, he has to first rediscover what it's like to go the distance and win on clay.
Few players throughout history have ever dominated on the soft stuff quite like Nadal, and as the slowest of the three major playing surfaces, clay offers the best surface for a beginner, or someone looking to learn the game. Or in Rafa's case, return to the game.
That's why Nadal's comeback to the top of men's tennis hinges on his success on clay in 2013. After all, if he can't dominate on his favorite surface, where can he?
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