Rafael Nadal Caps Tennis Comeback With Record 22nd Masters Title

Rafael Nadal beat Juan Martin Del Potro to win his record 22nd ATP World Tour Masters tennis title at the BNP Paribas Open, successfully coming through his first hard-court test following a seven-month injury layoff.

Nadal, the world No. 5 from Spain, fought back to defeat the seventh-ranked Del Potro 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 yesterday in the 2 1/2-hour final in Indian Wells, California. It was his ATP-leading third tournament victory this year and first on hard courts since October 2010.

Since returning from a knee injury last month, Spain’s Nadal has compiled a career-best 17-1 start that includes clay-court titles in Sao Paulo and Acapulco and a runner-up finish at his comeback event in Vina del Mar, Chile. He’ll move up to No. 4 in the world rankings.

“When you have a comeback like I’m having, you remember all the low things, the lower moments that you had during the seven months,” Nadal, 26, said in comments distributed by the ATP World Tour. “Hopefully I passed and can just remember all the people that really helped me a lot during all this time.”

The victory against Del Potro of Argentina, who upset No. 3 Andy Murray in the quarterfinals and then ousted top-ranked Novak Djokovic, was Nadal’s 600th career match win and moved him one ahead of Roger Federer with 22 titles at the Masters, the tier of events below the four Grand Slams.

Top-10 Wins

Nadal, playing his first hard-court tournament since pulling out of the Miami Masters 12 months ago because of tendinitis in his left knee, beat second-ranked Federer in the quarterfinals, the pair’s earliest matchup since beginning their rivalry nine years ago. He then defeated No. 6 Tomas Berdych in the semifinals.

“Beating three top-10 players and winning a title like this is just something unbelievable for me,” added Nadal. “I’m very, very happy and very emotional.”

Nadal, who has had 18 matches in the past six weeks, withdrew from the Miami tournament starting today, organizers said. The Mallorcan’s next scheduled event is the Monte-Carlo Masters, where he’ll seek a ninth consecutive title.

Maria Sharapova of Russia beat Caroline Wozniacki 6-2, 6-2 in the Indian Wells women’s final to secure her first WTA title of the season and 28th overall.

Sharapova, who didn’t drop a set en route to the title, fired 31 more winners than her Danish opponent and has now won at least one title for 11 years in a row. Only Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert and Steffi Graf had longer streaks.

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