Rafael Nadal ready to test knee on hard courts

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10:43 AM March 5th, 2013

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March 5th, 2013 10:43 AM

Spain’s Rafael Nadal returns the ball to Argentina’s Federico Delbonis during a VTR Open tennis match in Vina del Mar, Chile, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013. AP /Luis Hidalgo)

NEW YORK — Rafael Nadal plans to test his fragile knee on the hard courts at Indian Wells to determine his playing schedule for the rest of the spring.

The 11-time Grand Slam champion will play an exhibition against Juan Martin del Potro later Monday, his first chance to compete at Madison Square Garden. But when he heads to the hard courts for an official match later this week at Indian Wells, he doesn’t know how his left knee will respond.

Just the fact that he’s planning to play in California is encouraging for Nadal in his comeback from injury. A week ago, he wasn’t sure if his knee could handle it. Then came his performance at the Mexican Open — capped by a dominating victory over fellow Spaniard David Ferrer, the world’s fourth-ranked player, in Saturday’s final.

“I started to feel free to run to every ball,” Nadal said at a news conference Monday. “That’s fantastic for me.”

Nadal’s first three tournaments back after missing seven months have been on clay — the best surface even before the injury for the seven-time French Open champ. The hard courts are far more punishing on his body, and he has talked about perhaps playing on them less.

Still, he’d like to stick with the same full event schedule as in past years. Indian Wells, with an expected field that boasts the top men’s players in the world, will help determine whether that is possible.

“That will be a big test for me,” Nadal said. “Today I know I can play on clay; that’s a very important thing to know for me.”

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