Rafael Nadal crushed David Ferrer in the Acapulco final, showing off the type of form fans expected from him every match before his extended injury layoff. Now he travels to New York to face Juan Martin del Potro in the annual BNP Paribas Showdown.
It's the latest stop on Nadal's hectic schedule. Most players tend to take it easy after being out for awhile, fearing a potential setback. But the 11-time Grand Slam title winner has already played three tournaments and now an exhibition within one month of his return.
Nadal has won the last two events in Sao Paulo and Acapulco, picking up notable victories over David Nalbandian, Nicolas Almagro and the aforementioned Ferrer. Both were clay-court tournaments, though, which is where he thrives.
It will be interesting to see how he responds to his first hard-court match of the season, albeit in an exhibition atmosphere. He's definitely putting his balky knees to the test by playing so much right out of the gate.
That's always been his style. Nadal never does anything halfway. If he's going to play, it will be with his usual workmanlike approach and no shortcuts. His large fanbase just hopes it doesn't come back to haunt him before the Grand Slam stretch during the summer.
His opponent has fond memories of New York. Del Potro won his first—and to this point only—major at the U.S. Open in 2009. Although he's never been able to replicate that run, the potential remains for him to assert himself as a top-tier player.
He reached the semifinals in Dubai last week before getting eliminated by Novak Djokovic. After a disappointing third-round exit at the Australian Open, he's rebounded nicely by winning the Rotterdam event and posting a 9-2 record.
Nadal and Del Porto have met 10 times in their career, with the Spaniard coming out on top in seven of those encounters. The Argentine's last victory came during that remarkable run at the 2009 U.S. Open.
These exhibition matches tend to take on a different feel than a normal tournament matchup. But both players are still searching for top form, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see them each take this one a little more seriously.
Ultimately, it's hard not to be impressed with the way Nadal has played since coming back. As long as his health holds up, he should be right back in contention for major titles starting at the French Open in May.
Expect him to pick up the three-set victory in the BNP Paribas Showdown.