NEW DELHI: Before he was named as part of the Davis Cup squad, the last time Rafael Nadal set foot in India to play a tour-level match was many winters ago.
It was in 2008 that Nadal and mentor Carlos Moya produced a contest of sustained excellence to enthral the Chennai Open crowd. Then, the superstar went MIA, before visiting Anantapur two years later, where he founded a tennis school.
Following that, it took him another five years to show up in playing capacity, as he headlined the final day’s play, alongside Roger Federer, in the India leg of the star-studded International Premier Tennis League (IPTL). It was there that he said he wished to play in the country again.
Nine months later, Nadal made it happen. He couldn’t play the singles rubber on the first day due to a stomach bug, but more than made up for it the next day.
“It’s always special to play in a country where we don’t play too often.In India, I’ve played in Chennai a few years, and then last year it was IPTL, and then this year it is the Davis Cup. Fans are passionate here, and it is great for the players and good for our sport,” he told a room stacked full of reporters.
When asked if he would be part of the third edition of the IPTL, Nadal wouldn’t give a straight answer, choosing to put the ball in showrunner Mahesh Bhupathi’s court. “I’m playing IPTL, but I don’t know if I’m playing in India. That you have to ask Mahesh.”
With such a massive following, he didn’t need any more brownie points, but did so with aplomb by heaping praise on Leander Paes.
“Leander played a great match. It was a pleasure to play him here in his country. He is one of the biggest stars, and one of the best in the history of doubles,” Nadal said during the on-court interview, as fans went delirious.