Wow, who is this guy Horacio Zeballos? After all, he's not some hot new kid bursting onto the scene who everyone suddenly is thinking will be the next big thing. This is a 27-year-old Argentine who has been around the pro tour for quite some time, often losing in the early rounds of tournaments and never having won a title, ranked this week at 73. Yet here he is as now the only lefty to beat Rafael Nadal on red clay, the only other guy not named Federer or Djokovic to beat him in a clay court final.
The question is, is this someone who played an amazing week of tennis and just happened to catch a still rusty Nadal on his first week back on tour after over seven months away, or is this someone to really keep an eye on? He may very well be just another Rosol who took advantage of his opportunity and will just fade away again after his moments in the limelight. But no one can take away from him this amazing moment of winning his very first title on a clay court against the King of Clay. Yes Nadal may have been rusty, but Zeballos played some amazing tennis, holding his nerve when so many falter and continuing to bring it when things got tight.
I admit I was stunned when Zeballos broke back after Nadal took an easy break in the third set. I mean, it's one thing to win a 2nd set tiebreak, but then reality sets in and Nadal becomes Nadal again. But Zeballos wasn't going to let this opportunity slip away and he continued to dictate points, hitting one winner after another, finally breaking him at love to win the championship, falling to the ground in tears.
I guess the part that was surprising to me was that I was assuming, since Rafa had come through most of his matches fairly easy after a little hiccup at the beginning of his first one, that given the competition the final would be an easy straight setter given his opponent. In fact, I didn't even record the match when I had my own tennis going on because I figured it really wouldn't be worth watching. What a surprise when I came in halfway through the second set to watch it all unfold. So really our questions about Nadal's return aren't answered yet, and probably won't be until the clay court masters tournaments begin in the spring, followed by the all important French Open. The next couple weeks of his South America swing will be interesting as the competition heats up. Will this loss today dent his confidence or fuel his fire? Lots of questions, which is what keeps the tennis circuit continue to hold our attention - that and the fact that Roger Federer will be back on court this week in Rotterdam!!!