Rafael Nadal beats Juan Martin del Potro in Indian Wells final
Rafael Nadal continued his stunning return to action with victory over Juan Martin del Potro in the final of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.
The Spaniard, playing his first hard-court tournament in a year following a knee injury, won 4-6 6-3 6-4.
He adds Indian Wells to the clay-court titles he won in Brazil and Mexico since his comeback in February.
It was confirmed on Sunday that Nadal will not play in Miami next week, with European clay next on his schedule.
“It's probably one of the most emotional victories of my career”
"The doctors recommend me to be back home for a few weeks, rest a little bit and keep practising the right way," the world number five added.
"I need more power in the left leg quadriceps, so I need to keep working hard. The competition is hard for the body, so after four fantastic weeks I can't go to Miami. I need to prepare and rest for the next one."
He heads back to Europe having surpassed all expectations, ending the first stage of his comeback with victory in one of the biggest hard-court tournaments in tennis, which featured all the world's leading players.
Nadal says his left knee has good days and bad, and had played down his chances on the more punishing hard courts, but it appears he is already back to his best whatever the surface.
"It's probably one of the most emotional victories of my career," said Nadal, who took his career record to 600 victories.
After crashing to his back as Del Potro's final shot went wide, then falling to his knees by the net after the handshake, Nadal raced across the court and jumped into the front row of the crowd to embrace his team.
Wearing a smile as wide as the desert, this remarkable Spaniard knew he had just achieved the seemingly impossible. Playing a first hard-court event in almost a year, and facing an inspired opponent who led by a set and a break, Nadal started to display those very Nadal-like qualities.
The intensity of his performance, the determination of his comeback, the drive to the line. And, yes, those wild celebrations probably matched if not exceeded anything we've seen over his extraordinary career.
He won't play Miami next week so will return on the European clay, his home from home. On this evidence it's hard to see anyone denying him an eighth French Open title in Paris.
"The support since I came back has been huge. It's an unforgettable week for me and an unforgettable tournament."
The Argentine came back from 0-3, 15-40 to take the first set and move a break up in the second with a run of nine games out of 11, and victory was in sight at a set and 3-1 up.
Nadal was not done, however, and wrestled the momentum back as he began to win the battle of two of the biggest forehands in the game.
The Spaniard, 25, won five games in succession to force the decider and, after missing a chance to break at the start of the third, he did so with another vicious forehand winner in game three.
There was one final, brilliant cameo from Del Potro as he rescued a desperate situation at 0-40 and three match points down in game nine, but it was only a stay of execution.
Nadal served his way to another championship point and when he finally closed it out, the 11-time Grand Slam champion collapsed to the ground in scenes reminiscent of his major triumphs as he earned a record 22nd Masters title.
"I started the match playing fantastic, then Del Potro started playing a little more aggressive," said Nadal, whose last hard-court title came in 2010.
"In my opinion, I tried to change too early against his forehand. I was playing much too aggressive for my game.
"When I was able to calm myself, I began to play better. I started to play a little bit slower; my movement was unbelievable. Then I play a fantastic match."