All eyes were on Rafael Nadal as he lost to Juan Martin Del Potro in the BNP Paribas Showdown at Madison Square Garden. The Spaniard’s knees held up fine as Del Potro recorded a 7-6 (7-4), 6-4 victory.
In his first showing on a hard court in over 7 months, Nadal showed his all court coverage that tennis fans are used to seeing. Exhibition matches don’t count towards ranking points and allow the players to loosen up and have fun along with the fans.
Besides pocketing a $1.5 million appearance fee, Nadal was all smiles in his first trip to New York since the 2011 U.S. Open.
“I really enjoyed it a lot. It was an amazing experience for me playing in a huge arena like Madison Square Garden,” Nadal said. “It was an amazing feeling out there, the fans were very nice, the crowd supported me a lot, they know about tennis and it was great to play against Juan Martin tonight”
At one point in mid rally, Nadal and Del Potro showed their soccer skills by heading the tennis ball for several hits. The highlight of the evening was an improvised doubles match with some unusual partners.
Nadal picked actor Ben Stiller out of the audience and Del Potro chose nine-year-old Rebecca Suarez of Huntington, N.Y. The girl looked like a future star as she hit every shot sent her way including a clean winner past Stiller.
In the earlier match, Serena Williams notched a 6-4, 6-3 win over Victoria Azarenka. Their match had a light-hearted moment when Azarenka gave her racket to her friend, Redfoo of the pop group LMFAO.
The exhibition is a warm-up for the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calf. Often referred to as a “fifth” Grand Slam, this stop is a Masters event for the men and Premier tournament for the women.