February 19, 2013
We all love Rafael Nadal and wish him well. Who doesn’t want to see him back at his best, threatening the big three for Grand Slam titles once again?
If he can make good his recovery from seemingly eternal knee trouble, we are in for a treat. He could re-join Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Roger Federer at the very top of tennis.
It could be the greatest year of all, with four giants of the men’s game going at each other in full-bloodied combat.
It’s hard to see how Federer could remain one of that elite quartet in 2014, so of course we want to see Nadal back to his best in 2013 to make up the number. It would make for more extraordinary box office in this, the golden age of tennis.
But if it’s going to happen, Rafael is going to have to be wise, perhaps even beyond his 26 years. He is going to have to be patient and at peace with what could be a slower process than he foresees.
Yet the noises he is making in South America worry me slightly. Sure, it must have been frustrating to lose the final in Chile to world number 73 Horacio Zeballos.
And to reach the quarter-finals in Brazil still searching for those rhythms of old must leave doubts inside him. But so far Rafael has blamed the courts and even the ATP for his predicament.
‘Can you imagine footballers playing on cement?’ he said as he complained about the hard courts. ‘I think the ATP has to work to think of how to lengthen tennis player’s careers.’
Nadal may well have a point, but it is the same for everyone. What does he want to do, change the surface at the Australian and US Open, highly successful and much-loved tournaments, too? This simply isn’t the time for Rafael to try to change the world.
This is the time for Rafael to listen to those who know, and take small, important steps towards the European summer.
Rafael describes his condition as ‘not perfect yet. I don’t know when I’ll be at 100 per cent, I don’t know the future.’ He’s right there. But by listening to experts, he can protect his future.
And his own medical expert, Dr Angel Luiz Cotorro, has told Rafael publicly to select his tournaments very carefully. It is all about teaching the tendon to take the stresses and strains of competitive tennis again.
But to do that, Cotorro explains, there has to be a building up, a strengthening of the vulnerable area. Try to do too much too soon and Rafael could break down again.
It is no coincidence that Serena Williams, at the ripe old age of 31, looks ready to take over the women’s world number one spot again. How has she done it?
Apart from her warrior qualities, awesome power and fine technique, we all know her secret. She has spent a professional lifetime picking and choosing tournaments carefully.
Sometimes in the past she and her sister Venus have been criticised for doing it their way. But look who’s having the last laugh? Serena, still queen of tennis in her fourth decade!
Rafael Nadal could do a lot worse than talk to Serena about how to preserve the body a little better by picking and choosing those tournaments wisely. Sure, the men’s game is different, it’s more demanding.
All the more reason to be careful, Rafael.
All the more reason to listen to people who know, and to be patient.
We all want Nadal back to his explosive best. We share his frustration. But the surfaces aren’t going to change, Rafael – not for now. The ATP can’t wave a magic wand either.
All you can do is pick when and where to play…and perhaps more importantly, when NOT to. Listen carefully to your body, and to those who understand your body best.