Rafael Nadal — Getty ImagesIt's true that on Thursday night at the BNP Paribas Open Rafael Nadal defeated Roger Federer on a court that featured two guys with a combined 28 Grand Slams between them. And it's true that the tennis world, and sports world, looked on to see how Nadal would come out in his first huge match since his return from a knee injury that kept him out of last year's U.S. Open and this year's Australian Open.
But nothing else really looked like what we've come to expect from a Nadal versus Federer match. Federer was battling an ailing back and Nadal seemed to be finding his groove on the toughest surface his knees will face and right from the start it seemed like what we hoped would be an epic non-Grand Slam match was simply going to be a great champion far from 100 percent going up against a younger legend finally getting healthy.
Nadal won the match 6-4, 6-2, dominating the entire match to the point that it wasn't even entertaining, if that is possible when these two face each other. In just two sets, Nadal had 11 break points, converting four of them, and basically played out points until Federer would hit a ball in the net, or one long.
It's easy to credit Nadal for winning the match, but you have to tip your cap to Federer for playing tough throughout the match even though he was far from healthy. This sport is full of players that retire during matches when their body just isn't there, but Federer battled on into a second set that was all but over just as it was getting started. Down early in the second, Federer broke Nadal to give himself a glimmer of hope and show that he hadn't given up. Nadal quickly grabbed momentum back but it was that break that showed the type of player that Federer is, not like he needs to prove anything to anyone at this point in his career.
Nadal now advances and we will see how his knee holds up deeper into this tournament, but for the first time this year he has beaten one of the biggest names in the sport and that has to feel good, no matter the health of the guy he took down.