Rafael Nadal will return to No. 1 in the world rankings after his semi-final opponent Tomas Berdych retired injured at the China Open Saturday, capping an astonishing comeback for the 13-time Grand Slam champion. The Spanish world number two only needed to make the final in Beijing to edge ahead of Novak Djokovic in the new rankings, which will be announced by the ATP on Monday.
Nadal, who last topped the rankings in July 2011, has enjoyed a remarkable season, returning from injury to dominate the hardcourt tournaments. He will overtake defending China Open champion Djokovic at the top, even if the Serb overcomes France's Richard Gasquet in his semi-final later Saturday and retains the title on Sunday.
Nadal told reporters after the match that returning to top spot had capped "a great year, one of the best years of my career without any doubt".
"Sure is special be back to the top position of the ranking after more than a half year without playing tennis," he added. "I felt during all the season very excited every time I go on court."
Djokovic is currently on his 101st week as the top-ranked player. Czech Berdych pulled out of his semi-final after receiving treatment for an injury with Nadal leading 4-2 in the first set. Nadal had broken Berdych's serve in the fifth game after the pair appeared to be matching each other competitively in the early stages.
The world No. 5 told reporters after the match that he suffered a back injury when he reached for a shot. "I don't know actually what happened," he said, adding: "Just the pain was there. That's it. I mean, before I didn't feel anything. I was completely fine. I just had no problem at all. Nothing."
Berdych then praised Nadal's achievement on reclaiming the top spot. "With Rafa, well, just all the credit. It is really incredibly well done in the whole short time that he has become a number one again," he said. "That's really an achievement for an athlete like him."
Nadal was sidelined for the second half of last year with a knee injury and is unbeaten