MADRID May 12 (Reuters) - When Rafa Nadal returned to action in February after seven months out with a knee injury he never thought that just over three months later he would have another five titles in the bag, including two more Masters triumphs.
The Spaniard, a former number one and the French Open champion, dropped to five in the world during his enforced absence before storming back to win in Sao Paulo, Acapulco, Indian Wells, Barcelona and now Madrid.
He also reached the finals at Vina del Mar and Monte Carlo and Sunday's 6-2 6-4 destruction of Swiss 15th seed Stanislas Wawrinka in front of his adoring home fans in the Spanish capital was his third Madrid Open success.
Nadal now has 40 titles on his beloved clay, equal second in the Open era with Thomas Muster, and if he stays fit he could easily overhaul Guillermo Vilas's record of 45 by this time next year.
Ominously for any rival eyeing his Roland Garros crown - he will be chasing an eighth title in Paris starting at the end of this month - he said after his victory in Madrid he was close to where he wanted to be in terms of fitness and form.
Nadal told a news conference that Sunday's match was his most satisfactory performance since his return to Europe after his Indian Wells victory in March.
"I've realized that my forehand is working again at its best level and I am able to open up the angles and play a lot of winning points," Nadal said.
"It's true that in some moments I was lacking a little bit of backhand or legs.
"But if I'm able to compensate for that with my aggressiveness everything changes.
"These last matches I have been able to reach that goal, you know, that line, that place where I want to be playing, the kind of form that I'm aiming for."
Nadal now heads to Rome, where he beat world number one Novak Djokovic in the final last year for his sixth title at the Masters event in the Italian capital.
He said he would be back on the practice court on Monday and was cautious when asked about his prospects for the coming months.
"The outlook will be great if I don't feel anything in my knee," he said.
"But I don't know how the thing's going to improve, so that's why I want to be very calm, stay with the feet completely on the floor, and go day by day.
"Things are going well but the injury is not two years ago. It's just a few months ago.
"So I need to be calm, enjoy every moment, and for sure keep working hard to be fit for the rest of the season."
Nadal was reluctant to look beyond Rome and discuss his chances for the French Open.
"It's the moment just to be happy with what I have achieved in Madrid, in Barcelona and Monte Carlo.
"You know, I'm here and next week I will be in Rome and I will be thinking about Rome. I won't be thinking Roland Garros.
"When it comes we will think about Roland Garros, which is a pretty important tournament, of course, but it's not the only one in the world.
"If you told me four months ago all this would have happened and I wasn't going to do well in Roland Garros I would tell you, yes, I will sign that with my eyes closed." (Editing by John Mehaffey)