| By New York Tennis Magazine Staff
Photo credit: Adam Wolfthal

Professional tennis returned to New York City last night, as the BNP Paribas Showdown was held at Madison Square Garden.

The night started with a women's match between Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka, the top two players in the WTA Tour rankings. It was an entertaining match which featured an appearance from Azarenka's friend Redfoo of LMFAO, who came out to play a couple points against Serena. In the end, even with the assistance of Redfoo, it was Serena who defeated Azarenka in straight sets 6-4, 6-3.

The main event of the evening was a men's exhibition between Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal of Spain. It was a battle of former U.S. Open champions, but the real story was Nadal's return to the hard courts. Nadal, an 11-time Grand Slam champion who missed seven months due to knee injuries, was back on a hard-court surface for the first time since March 2012, when he played in the ATP Sony Open in Miami.

The Nadal-del Potro match was a combination of big forehands with touch shots and crowd pleasing plays mixed in. There were at least a half dozen between-the-legs shots. The match was delayed in the second set when Nadal went in to the crowd and brought actor Ben Stiller on to the court with him. Del Potro then got a young girl sitting courtside to be his partner and a doubles match was born.

“Ben was fantastic to come out here tonight. He needs to practice a little more tennis,” Nadal said. “And to play with a kid is a fantastic experience for all of the fans and for her, too. We enjoyed all of the show.”

When singles play resumed, del Potro was able to pull out a 7-6(7-4), 6-4 win.

“It was an amazing opportunity to play here at Madison Square Garden,” Nadal, a 26-year-old Spaniard, said in a televised interview. “This kind of thing just happens once in life and we tried to enjoy it as much as possible.”

Currently fifth in the ATP Men's Singles Tour rankings, Nadal is scheduled to play his first hard-court tournament of the season this week at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif.

“It was fantastic for me playing against Rafa in this stadium,” said del Potro, who is ranked seventh in the world. “The good thing for everybody is that Rafa is back. It’s amazing how quickly he’s recovered and he’s playing really well. He’s going to be fighting for the number one spot very soon.”

Credit all photos to Adam Wolfthal

Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams, Juan Martin del Potro and Victoria Azarenka are introduced to the New York City crowd before the BNP Paribas Showdown


Tim Mayotte (right) of 360Tennis and some of the juniors from his program enjoying the latest issue of Long Island Tennis Magazine at MSG


Spain's Rafael Nadal marked his return to the hard courts during his exhibition with Juan Martin del Potro at MSG


Redfoo of LMFAO came out to lend a hand to his friend Victoria Azarenka


Juan Martin del Potro en route to his 7-6(7-4), 6-4 win over Rafael Nadal


World number two-ranked Victoria Azarenka awaits Serena's serve


The crew from Centrecourt Academy shows their support for the local tennis scene during the BNP Paribas Showdown


Rafael Nadal brought out partner Ben Stiller for an impromptu doubles match


Juan Martin del Potro introduces his doubles partner from Sportime to the MSG crowd


Ben Stiller sizes up his competition


The gang from John McEnroe Tennis Academy with the latest issue of Long Island Tennis Magazine