For the next instalment of or retrospective series looking back at the top match of 2013, we arrive at a magnificent fourth round encounter between Spaniard Rafael Nadal and Latvian Ernests Gulbis. While many had high hopes for the Spaniards return to the top of the ranks, even the most optimistic amongst us did not expect Rafa to win his first hard court title since 2010 that week in Indian Wells. It was a fantastic week for Nadal and only the start of one of the greatest comeback seasons of all time.
Rafael Nadal def. Ernests Gulbis, Indian Wells 4R, 4-6 6-4 7-5
Latvian no. 1 Ernests Gulbis was on a 13-match winning streak heading into his fourth round contest against the Spaniard. He had made his way through the qualifying rounds at Delray Beach to lift the title, and then arrived at Indian Wells, where he won three main-draw matches, to reach this contest. He was yet to defeat Nadal in five attempts on the tour.
Nadal had returned to the tour the previous month after a significant knee injury sidelined him for the majority of the 2012 and early 2013 season. Returning on clay, Rafa won two of three tournaments before arriving at Indian Wells for his first hard court tournament in almost a year. He opened up the tournament against young American Ryan Harrison and then received a walkover in his third round match against Leonardo Mayer, giving him ample time to prepare for the contest.
Still, the lack of practice on hard courts had its impact on Nadal in the opening set. The Spaniard struggled to hold serve comfortably, and was constantly threatened by the Latvian, eventually dropping a break and losing the set 6-4. Yet, resilient by nature, Nadal charged back with his own aggression and forced a break in the second set to take it 6-4 and even the score heading into the third.
The third set was an intense affair as Gulbis lead the third set 5-4 and managed to get a 30-15 lead on Nadal’s serve, but lost the next five points to let Nadal tie the set. Not one to miss an opportunity, Nadal earned the decisive break of the third to go up 6-5, then closed out match on his third match point. The win was a satisfying one and set up a highly anticipated clash with 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer.