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Injured Nadal draws inspiration from Ronaldo

SAO PAULO -- Rafael Nadal is drawing inspiration from Brazilian soccer great Ronaldo to continue his successful return from injury.

With Ronaldo watching, Nadal took an important step on Sunday by winning the Brazil Open for his first title after a seven-month layoff to treat his left knee. Now he wants to repeat the Brazilian's successful story of recovery from much more serious injuries.

Nadal said Ronaldo is “an example” to be followed because of his determination to rebound from a series of knee injuries that threatened his career.

Despite winning again, the Spaniard is still bothered by his knee and said he is far from fully recovered, although he hopes the victory in front of Ronaldo will mark a new beginning in his career.

“Ronaldo is an example to a lot of people because of all that he was able to achieve despite what he had to go through with all the knee problems in his career,” Nadal said. “He is definitely an example to me. He's an example of determination and hard work.”

Ronaldo ended his career as one of the world's top strikers after overcoming three serious knee operations. The former Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter Milan and AC Milan striker won two World Cups with Brazil and remains the tournament's all-time leading scorer with 15 goals.

Nadal said he has always admired Ronaldo, and as a kid proudly took a photo with the striker when he played for Barcelona in the late 1990s.

“He was unstoppable, one of the best players of all time despite all the bad luck he had with the knee,” Nadal said.

The Spaniard was out of action since last year because a torn and inflamed tendon in his knee, an injury that he says is improving but still bothers him from time to time. He downplayed his difficulties compared to Ronaldo's, but said he now has a better understanding of what the Brazilian had to go through.

“I didn't have so many problems, I never needed the surgeries,” Nadal said. “But I can imagine how hard it must have been for Ronaldo with the complicated surgeries that he had to go through.”

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Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates at the end of the Brazil Open ATP tournament final against Argentina's David Nalbandian in Sao Paulo, Brazil on Sunday, Feb. 17. (AP)

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