Rafael Nadal was a teenager the last time he played the ATP Brasil Open. But eight years later in 2013, the 26-year-old Spanish star is set to make a triumphant return to the under-the-radar clay-court tournament.
Just days after falling short in the ATP VTR Open men's final in Chile, Nadal is back on South American clay, looking to return to top form after seven months away from competitive tennis.
But this time around, fans have every reason to believe he will triumph for the first time in 2013.
Nadal's top threat in Sao Paulo this week will be second-seeded countryman Nicolas Almagro, a three-time champion of this tournament who's looking to win his third-straight in Brazil this February.
But while Almagro and other top contenders like Juan Monaco and Jeremy Chardy will have an advantage in terms of being at full strength this week, Nadal boasts a tremendous clay-court resume and an unparalleled skill set on the slow-playing surface.
A defensive-minded, scrappy player, Nadal has been nearly impossible to beat on clay since he burst onto the scene nearly a decade ago, winning more than 90 percent of his career singles matches on the surface.
Shortly after winning the Brasil Open as an 18-year-old in 2005, Nadal won the first of his record seven French Open titles at Roland Garros. The rest is history.
His relentless style suits him well on clay. He fights hard to get to every ball and rarely, if ever, plays a conservative point on his favorite surface. Nadal has already rediscovered his unbeatable clay-court mentality since returning last week. Now, all that's left is for him to regain full range of motion and confidence in his aching left knee.
After coming so close to triumph last weekend in Chile, Nadal will be aiming to wash the bitter taste of defeat from his mouth in Brazil.
It may be some time before his knee pain gives way to tennis success, but Rafa's competitive nature has driven him to incredible achievements over the course of his prolific career, and that same determination is primed to reveal itself this week in Sao Paulo.
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