Rafael Nadal secures year-end No. 1 ranking

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LONDON — Exactly one year ago, as the world’s best tennis players faced each other in London at the season-ending finale, Rafael Nadal couldn’t even practice.

Trying not to look too far ahead, the Spaniard was at home in Spain, just thinking about his badly injured knee. Nadal didn’t know if he would play competitive tennis again.

“The thoughts about the future? Just focus on recover, focus on try to find a solution for my knee, and that’s it. Working every day, trying to do different things to try to be back,” the 13-time Grand Slam winner said Wednesday of his feelings at the time.

Things have changed dramatically.

Twelve months later in London, Nadal capped his remarkable comeback on Wednesday by clinching the year-end No. 1 spot for the third time in his career.

Just nine months after returning from his career-threatening injury, Nadal became the first player to hold, lose and regain the year-end No. 1 spot twice by beating Stanislas Wawrinka 7-6 (5), 7-6 (6) at the ATP finals. Roger Federer and Ivan Lendl did it once in their careers.

Nadal, who beat Wawrinka for the 12th time in as many matches, can’t be overtaken by No. 2 Novak Djokovic.

It’s the first time since 2010 that the Spaniard, who returned from a seven-month injury layoff in February, ends the year as the top-ranked player.

“It is one of the best things that I did in my career: come back to No. 1 after three seasons. That’s very difficult in our sport, and after a very important injury,” Nadal said after celebrating with fist pumps and leaps as if he had won the tournament — the only major event missing from his victory collection.

Nadal advanced to the semifinals of the year-end tournament because of his straight-sets victory over the Swiss.

The Spaniard’s season will be remembered as the story of a stunning comeback during which he captured 10 titles — including two Grand Slams.

Following his defeat in the second round at Wimbledon last year and the extended absence that followed, only the boldest of bookmakers would have bet on Nadal achieving such success in 2013.

When he resumed playing, his left knee was still causing him pain. However, Nadal’s confidence grew during a Latin-America tour which produced a 12-1 match record, including titles at Sao Paulo and Acapulco.

After securing his eighth French Open title, the only real disappointment of the year came at Wimbledon, where he lost to Belgian Steve Darcis in the first round — before adding a second US Open title.

The 27-year-old Spaniard also won five ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events and went undefeated on hard courts (26-0) through to the China Open final, where he lost to Djokovic.

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