Play, win, get injured, repeat. It seems like a vicious cycle of Rafael Nadal’s life. He truly gives it his all when he makes a comeback only to be let down by his knee again and again. The name Rafael Nadal has always been synonymous with pushing limits to compete and compete harder. He regularly faces the best of the circuit in grueling matches and that wears him down immensely. His style of play has hurt him throughout his career. The biggest casualty of all his monumental efforts has been his knee and it has forced him to pull out of numerous tournaments.
Another injury, another layoff.
Rafael Nadal‘s most recent retirement was from the ATP Finals after he lost against David Goffin in a tight 3 setter that lasted more than two and a half hours. While playing in the Paris Masters, he felt some pain in his knee and that caused him to withdraw from the tournament. After that, his chances of playing the World Tour Finals seemed very bleak. Even his fans were hoping for him to skip the finals and get some rest for him to recoup and be ready for the next season. But he shocked them all by confirming his participation.
He was up against David Goffin in his first round robin match. Goffin had never defeated him but in recent times, Nadal has lost against players who had never won against him in the past. Despite playing with an injured knee, he pushed it to the decider set and saved 4 match points before succumbing eventually. He was absolutely gutted to pull out but he had no choice. He just could not continue.
In the post-match press conference, he said,
“I am off. My season is finished. I had the commitment to the event, with the city, with myself. I tried hard. But I am really not ready to play, no? I really fought a lot during the match, but knowing that there was a big chance that this could be the last match of the season for me. It is about the pain. I cannot hold enough power to keep playing. I tried, but seriously was a miracle to be very close in the score during the match.”
This season for him was really an unforgettable one. He won a hard court title after a drought of three and a half years, and that too at a major event, The US Open. 2 Grand Slam titles, a slam final, 2 Masters 1000 titles, and another Masters 1000 finals – a dream season. But what makes it the best season of his entire career is that he completed the La Decima at 3 events this year; Barcelona Open, Monte Carlo Masters, and the Roland Garros. As always, a great season tags some hardships with it. More so in the case of Rafael Nadal.
A busy calendar was meant to hurt him. But the major questions are: Till when can he go on this way? Till when can he push his body time and again, and yet expect to make a comeback? It has to end one day. Perhaps there will come a time when he would have pushed himself too hard and that may not let him have the opportunity to play his best game again. Smart scheduling is a necessity for him now. He should only play tournaments where he is sure that he will win the maximum points. Also, he should not play a lot of tournaments at a stretch. Holding back once a while is essential for him to let his body heal in time for the major tournaments all along the year.
Along with some changes in scheduling, he should bring about some changes in his technique as well. For starters, he could change his serve and try to gain as many points through it as possible. Adapting a slightly flatter game would benefit him a lot on hard courts. He is already becoming more proactive these days and goes for a shot only when he knows he has an opportunity there. This is one positive change that he has made to his game.
But, there will be one thing that will be missing from now on- His uncle Toni in Nadal’s player box. This World Tour Final was Toni’s last tournament with Rafa as his coach. We are all so habituated to seeing Toni in Rafa’s player box that it will feel incomplete to all of us for a while. It might also affect Nadal adversely. They have been a team for 28 years, right from when he was a 3-year-old. Throughout his career, Nadal has gained strength from his box. Now, a very important part of that box will be missing forever.
We can only hope that Toni’s retirement as the official coach does not affect Nadal much and that he can get back to winning in the next season. He can do that if he starts scheduling his season properly and by being picky about his participation.