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New York Cheers Nadal's Return at BNP Paribas Showdown

Rafael Nadal earned the biggest cheers of support from the crowd on hand at Madison Square Garden at the BNP Paribas Showdown.

By Erik Gudris

Del Potro Nadal BNP Paribas Showdown (March 5th, 2013) -- The two matches at the BNP Paribas Showdown were part sport and part comedy act in front of a 15,000 plus capacity crowd inside Madison Square Garden. But the biggest cheers were for the man making his return to New York for the first time in 18 months.

For Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams who kicked off the night, it was a chance for them to prove that their growing rivalry is still very much a friendly one despite Williams having recently taken the No. 1 ranking away from Azarenka.

At least a set and half, both women kept things fairly serious on the court with Williams eventually taking the first set 6-4.

At 3-all in the second set, the expected fun and games began with Azarenka's constant friend in tow RedFoo stepping on court to entertain the crowd. Once that was over, Williams pushed herself closer to wrapping up the match when she hit a kneeling forehand passing shot winner that earned huge applause from the crowd.

Williams picked up the pace in the final few games and went on to close out the 6-4, 6-3 win.

Both players shared a good camaraderie on the court and during their post-match presser as well with Williams saying Azarenka was one of the few players on tour that she would considering associating with off-court. Azarenka herself said she was thinking of getting Serena to duet with her on a karaoke version of Rhianna's "Stay" sometime later in the year.

But the main event of the evening though was the return of Rafael Nadal to New York for the first time since the 2011 U.S. Open. All eyes were on Nadal as he took on Juan Martin Del Potro to see how the Spaniard would play on a hard court with Indian Wells coming up this week.

Nadal delighted the crowd with multiple smash winners while at the same time looking at ease with his forehand. But Nadal's backhand produced a few too many errors and that allowed Del Potro enough opportunities to take the match 7-6, 6-4.

But the victory for Nadal was that he looked much better moving on the court than he did when he first began his comeback in Vina Del Mar last month. Nadal chased down balls from every angle and though the exhibition was lighthearted at times, Nadal did get a good workout from Del Potro in the end.

In their post-match press conference, Nadal was asked repeatedly about his knee and how he felt about it heading into Indian Wells. Nadal looked a bit weary answering reporters' questions on a subject that has been discussed and debated at length for eight months now. When asked about his goals for the year, Nadal said "My only goal is to recover 100% the knee. When that happens we can start to think about ambitious goals."

Del Porto, who himself came back from a wrist injury suffered in 2010, understood what Nadal has been going through. "I know what feelings he has. I can imagine what he is feeling now," said Del Potro. "But he deserves to be safe, to be healthy, and to be fighting for the first positions very soon. He is a very good fighter and we are so glad to see him playing again at this tournament. I hope he is 100% in the future very very soon."

The lanky Argentine probably expressed the thoughts of many as Nadal prepares to face his biggest test yet at the BNP Paribas Open. But the support Nadal received from the always vocal New York crowd proved that fans have waited long enough and are ready for him to step back onto the biggest stages of the sport as soon as possible.

(Photo Credit: Erik Gudris)


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