There he suddenly was. In Nike grey shorts and bright green shirt and headband, the Mayorcan mauler. Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka had opened the evening and Juan Martin Del Potro was facing Nadal in this BNP Paribas Exbo in Madison Square Garden, but the crowd had clearly come out to see Rafa. And he didn't disappoint. There are signature moves or shots in sports that become iconic: Ali's shuffle and jab, MJ's tongue-wagging one-handed, bicep-flexed dunks, Sampras's serve and Reggie Jackson's home run swing and swagger around the bases. Rafael Nadal's whipping forehand is as awesome and world-renowned a motion. How he hits that shot with such torque, disguise and snake tongue-snap is impossible to fathom even when you're up close and live. Rafa might've had his left knee taped, but there was nothing wrong with his Incredible Hulk left arm. His mega-watt smile was also in display. Rafa was having a great time, and even though Del Potro took the first set in a tie-breaker, it was Rafa who hit the more mesmerizing shots. Three stick out in my mind. Coming to the net more than he would in a regular match, Rafa snapped an overhead over his left shoulder as he ran with his back to the net. The sheer power and perfect placement of the shot produced a spasm of delight to the capacity crowd at the Garden. Then Rafa hit one of his signature inside-out forehands from the middle of the baseline with his body facing directly forward toward the net. How he generated such spin, angle and pace, essentially with no hip turn into the ball was absolutely astounding. And finally, a little girl held up a brightly-colored sign and called out to Rafa at one point in the match, and Rafa hit a ball up into her hands. She was standing a good 200 feet from the court and Rafa just flicked the ball off his Babolat right into her hands. Rafa also made a couple of tweeners and looked very frisky, fit and motivated. I'd be very surprised if Rafa doesn't play Indie Wells and Key Biscayne and do very well at each. He had a Garden crowd eating out of his hands tonight and thousands came out to rejoice in Rafa's return to the Big Apple. The last exhibition I attended at the Garden, the Senior Event with McEnroe, Sampras, Agassi and Rafter, didn't have nearly the juice or the attendance of this one. The 18,500-seat Garden was filled to the rafters and Rafa put on a show.