Rafael Nadal will make an early-season appearance in South America next year. (Andres Kudacki/AP)
If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Rafael Nadal will return to South America to play the inaugural Rio Open in Rio de Janiero in February. The event, an ATP 500 on clay, will be a combined tournament with the WTA, which will put on an International-level event. The Rio Open will replace the joint event in Memphis, Tenn.
The announcement appears to solidify a change in strategy when it comes to how Nadal has scheduled his season. For the last seven years, the Spaniard opted to take a month-long break after the Australian Open in January and returned at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., in March. The break allowed him to satisfy any Davis Cup obligations as well as rest his knees for the push through Indian Wells and Miami, followed by his heavy clay schedule leading up to the French Open.
But after a seven-month break because of a knee injury, Nadal began his 2013 season by returning to South American clay for the first time since 2005. He went on to make the final of the VTR Open in Chile and then won the Brasil Open in Sao Paulo, his first title since winning the French Open in 2012. That early-season clay run, the likes of which he had not done since 2005, set him up well for the season, where he's played 13 tournaments, made the final of 12 and won 10, including the French Open and U.S. Open, and is on the verge of overtaking Novak Djokovic for the No. 1 ranking.
The heavy emphasis on clay this year, which Nadal says is a more forgiving surface for his body, hasn't detracted from his hard-court game either. Nadal was able to turn around quickly from winning a clay-court tournament in Acapulco, Mexico, to winning, two weeks later, his first ATP Masters 1000 on hard courts since 2009. He has since gone 22-0 on hard courts this year with three ATP Masters 1000 titles and the U.S. Open. In fact, the only blip on his year was a first-round loss at Wimbledon.