Fans at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells have taken notice, two-time former champion Rafael Nadal is back and looking healthy.
Nadal opened tournament play in front of a packed center court Saturday night defeating rising American star Ryan Harrison, 7-6(3), 6-2.
"More than any result, any victory is important for me because that gives me the chance to play another day. That's what I need, play matches. I need to compete," Nadal said after the match.
On Friday, more than 1,000 fans gathered to watch the Spaniard take to the practice court at the tournament, with some arriving hours ahead of his schedule time to get the best seats.
"There are plenty of matches (Friday) that didn't draw this many people," John Lund of Philadelphia said, with his iPad in hand.
Victoria Hanly of Sacramento said she was pleasantly surprised by Nadal's decision to play at Indian Wells.
"I think I'm going to jump up on the rail here to see him," Hanly said.
The former World No. 1 player missed seven months of tennis at the end of last season and the start of 2103 due to a partially torn tendon in his left knee.
"I understand my situation after seven months. I think it's not the right moment to talk about the knee," Nadal told media in the run up to his first match. "We'll see how the knee responds on hard (court)."
Nadal played in three clay court tournaments, winning in Brazil and Mexico, before making the transition back to hard court surface.
"I'm very happy about what I did in Latin America clay court season," Nadal said. "Was very important to me, and I really came here because it's one of my favorite tournaments."
It's not just fans who have noticed Nadal is back, fellow top 10 players are also glad to see Rafa return.
"It's now been three tournaments in last four weeks for Rafa, and, you know, he doesn't show any signs of pain in the knees and something that can distract him now. He's on the right way, you know," current No. 1 Novak Djokovic said.
During the 2011 season, the Djokovic-Nadal rivalry ramped up, with the Serb topping the Spaniard six times in route to taking over the No. 1 ranking in men's tennis.
"As his colleague and friend, I can say that it's really great to see him back for our sport in general, for fans, for everyone who loves tennis, because he's such a popular and charismatic player and is recognized all over the world," Djokovic added.