Friday, September 28, 2012
Five reasons Nadal's absence will help him
Rafael Nadal might not see action on a tennis court again until well into the new year, which is troubling and disappointing news. But if there was ever a good -- or is it "convenient"? -- time for Nadal to take an extended break, this probably is it.
We last saw him limping out of London on sore knees after Czech journeyman Lukas Rosol played a fabulous fifth set to knock Rafa out in the second round. According to my friends in the Spanish media, Nadal had at least two MRIs and extensive treatment on the patellar tendon of his left knee while he was in London. Shortly thereafter, Nadal pulled out of the Olympic Games. (He was the defending singles gold medalist and the Spanish flag-bearer.) There's no doubt that the past few months have not been fun for him. As he said on a media tour in England the other day:
"At Roland Garros, I had to play with anti-inflammatories to get through. After that, I felt really bad. My practice before Wimbledon was terrible. I played the first round with injections; otherwise it would have been impossible. That doesn't help the knee. I've played a lot in pain before, as other people have done. The problem is when you run and you are thinking about where you are planting your leg. It is impossible to compete like that."
Still, some times are better than others for taking a break, and it appears as if Nadal picked a pretty good time to pull the plug when his Wimbledon mission was aborted. Here are five reasons why:
1. All the important events in the last quarter are on hard courts, which are particularly tough on joints. In Nadal's case, we're talking mainly about those "Achilles knees" that have plagued him since he had to pass up the opportunity to defend his Wimbledon title in 2009.
2. Nadal has been least reliable in the final quarter of the year. I'm including the U.S. Open as the start of that quarter; he has had more losses at the U.S. Open, where he is 34-8, than at any other Grand Slam venue, and he never has won a Masters 1000 event on hard courts after Toronto/Montreal.
3. Nadal feels he's been forced to play too much tennis (by the ATP rules) and has been increasingly vocal about it in recent years. At times, he has sounded downright disillusioned. But he also has played through, out of a sense of loyalty, pressure to maintain or build on his ranking, or both. Perhaps this enforced absence will allow him to look at the 11-month calendar from a different, fresh perspective.
4. The year-end championship (currently, the ATP World Tour Finals) has never been kind to Nadal. Having failed to win it at least once is the glaring hole in his résumé, no matter what his apologists say. In fact, he's been in only one final in the year-end event. To make matters worse, his great rival Roger Federer has won the year-end shootout six times, which greatly enhances his stature in a comparison of the two men. Great players win the year-end championships, whatever the flaws of the round-robin format or surface.
5. In 2011, Novak Djokovic cruelly mastered Nadal and broke him down, mentally, emotionally and, at times, even physically. Things got off to a rocky start this year, too, but Nadal finally evened the score in the clay-court season, culminating with the French Open final. I'm sure Rafa wouldn't have liked to take his sabbatical with Djokovic weighing as heavily on his mind as he had earlier in the year. This long break also might give Nadal the opportunity to hit the reset button in his rivalry with Djokovic.
OK, having said all that, I'm sure that, given his druthers, Nadal would rather be completely healthy and taking his chances like everyone else on the hard courts during this long tennis year. But some good things might result from this hiatus, not all of them having to do with those two tender knees.