Best of Three: Breaking down Rafael Nadal's return
• Making sense of Rafa's return: The spin Rafael Nadal administers to a tennis ball? It has nothing on the spin being applied to his comeback. Nadal played his first event since Wimbledon 2012, taking a wild card to the Viña del Mar ATP event. His return was much anticipated, so much so that Tennis Channel covered the tournament. And, well ... it's hard to know what to make of Nadal's return.
For much of a the week he did a convincing impersonation of pre-injury Rafa Nadal, whipping his lefty forehand, sliding around the clay granules of the court, serving his way out trouble. Other times he looked understandably rusty. This was distilled on Sunday. Playing against Horacio Zeballos -- who had fewer ATP match wins than Nadal had clay-court titles -- the defending French Open champion won the first set and looked to be on his way to the title. Then he played a few shaky games, his opponent's confidence swelled and Zeballos won the second set. In the third, Nadal look jarringly drained of force and fell 4-6, 7-6, 6-4.
The pessimists will say Nadal has lost his edge. If he's falling to the likes of Zeballos on clay, we should be concerned. The optimists will judge this a success. Nadal played a full slate of matches -- he was a doubles finalist as well -- and held his own. His knee held up, too. If his stamina and energy level betrayed him in the final set, well, that was to be expected after such a long layoff. The optimists include Nadal. "Everything was very positive," he said after the final. "It's true I wanted to win the final, and it's true I didn't play my best match this afternoon."
The good news: we don't have to bicker. Nadal heads to the Brazil Open in São Paulo next week and the Mexico Open in Acapulco on Feb. 25. Let's reassess after that.
• Inter-country competitions heat up: Last week, we had the first Davis Cup installment of 2013. This past weekend, we had Fed Cup action. Again, at a time when the sport has never been more global, these inter-country competitions ought to be reconceived. But I'll say this: there was a fair amount of drama. In Italy, the American team (led by Varvara Lepchenko in the absence of the Williams sisters and Sloane Stephens) fell to the hosts 3-2. The Slovak Republic upset Serbia 3-2. The Czechs beat Australia 4-0. And Russia beat Japan 3-2. All your results can be found here.
• Points to be had: Ever tune in to a Major event, glance at the seedings and say, "How the heck did [insert player here] achieve a top-32 ranking?" Well, there are heaps of points up for grabs during, say, mid-February when Tennis Consciousness may not be at its peak. Richard Gasquet won the Montpellier title yesterday (his second title of 2013), beating countryman Benoit Paire in the final. (Mike Llodra and Marc Gicquel won the doubles.) Marin Cilic won in Zagreb, beating Jurgen Melzer in the final. There are three ATP events this coming week, including the last vintage of the San Jose tournament, and there are three WTA events this week. Points, points and more points!
• Marion Bartoli, 28, and her father, Walter, are ending their coaching relationship.
• Rhyne Williams beat former U.S. Open semifinalist Robby Ginepri to take the Dallas Challenger event.
• Agnes Szavay, 24, called it a career last week. The Hungarian had great potential and reached a ranking of No. 13, but she struggled for years with a back injury.
• The Indian Wells prize money dispute rages. Question: shouldn't IMG -- which manages players and also owns the Miami event after Indian Wells -- be suspended from this vote on conflict grounds?