Rafael Nadal is in the final of the ATP 500 tournament from Beijing after an intense match against Grigor Dimitrov. The Spanish player won 6-3,4-6, 6-1 and this victory brings him one step closer to the eagerly wanted year-end World Number one spot. Rafa had two nightmare season in 2015 and 2016 and the invincible Matador from Manacor seemed to be off the grid of modern tennis. Critics started discussing a potential retirement whereas his fans were just disappointed while seeing their idol beaten by underdogs such as Fabio Fognini, Dustin Brown, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Borna Coric, Viktor Troicki or Lucas Pouille.

Nadal had to fight with knee or wrist injuries and his prestigious career was in jeopardy. What 2017 brought to the world of tennis is the resurgence of Rafa Nadal, the champion who reminded us why he is a tennis legend.

Hardcourt specialist

The win in Beijing is the 60th victory of the season and the official website of ATP highlights that this is the fourth time Nadal is in the final of the ATP 500 tournament. Two years ago, Rafa had to deal with a hard blow after a crushing defeat, 2-6 2-6 to Novak Djokovic.

The Spaniard's performance on hard courts was average in the last two years as his game lacked consistency, with a high number of unforced errors. Now, Nadal holds the most wins on hard courts in 2017, with 33 victories. What seemed to be ''mission impossible'' a few years ago is now a reality. According to ATP Stats, Nadal's first serve percentage in the last 52 weeks is the best from Top 10, with 67.8%, whereas Roger Federer's percentage is 62.1%.

Add to this factor the top-spin of Rafa's serve and you will understand why he managed to be a nightmare opposition on hard courts. When Nadal used to dominate the clay season, his hard court tennis failed so many times because of a weak serve. His improvement is massive and that is one of the reasons of his current season.

Motivation of the Fedal rivalry

Nadal and Federer contributed to Europe's win in the Laver Cup which took place in Prague at the end of September. The rivalry and friendship between the two is another reason for Nadal's ascendancy in 2017. At this year's Australian Open, people started to talk about a potential final between the two after the first week and their meeting was legendary. After defeating top-class opponents like Wawrinka, Dimitrov, Zverev, Berdych, Nishikori or Raonic, the two managed to show us why they are two of the biggest champions of the modern era.

After the final, Federer confessed that ''Rafa made me a better player.' The same principle applies to Nadal, as his game developed because of Roger's improvements in the last years.

While the latter was adding to his game extra-aggressivity and fast shots such as the SABR, Nadal was working hard to rebecome the invincible player he was during the period 2005-2014. Hard work paid off as Nadal's shots gained more depth and aggressivity while his number of unforced errors was reduced. For example, in the match lost at the 2015 US Open edition against Fabio Fognini, Rafa made 41 unforced errors, whereas in the final won this year against Kevin Anderson the total was 11. A key stat in the case of Roger Federer who improved his backhand this year, a source of many unforced errors in the past losses at top players.

Master of returns

Another key component in Nadal's masterclass season is his ability to return first serves in.

According to ATP Stats, the World No. 1 is the leader in terms of points won after returning first serves, with a 35%, overpowering Andy Murray, Diego Schwartzman or Benoit Paire. We all knew he is a Master Yoda when it comes to games on return but this comes as a confirmation of his capacity to break with ease. And when you talk about a 16-times Grand Slam winner, breaking the opponent is vital to get an advantage in the match.