Nadal’s Last Chance?

Rafael Nadal took home his 2nd Wimbledon title on Sunday but will it be his last?

After defeating Tomas Berdych in straight sets (6-3, 7-5, 6-4) on Sunday to capture his second Wimbledon Title, Rafael Nadal dropped to the ground in joy. Following handshakes to Berdych and the referee, Nadal closed with a celebratory somersault at centre court.

Nadal’s acts of celebration truly exemplify the personality, flare, and energy that he has shown as a player and a person on the court. The passion and hustle that he plays the game of tennis with is unmatched by anyone. You just flat out aren’t going to find a more likable athlete than Rafael Nadal.

Each major tournament Rafael Nadal is getting closer, and may even be considered by some, to being thought of as one of the all-time tennis greats. We are left to wonder though if the injury issues that Nadal is constantly faced with week in and week out are finally going to catch up to him. Looking back on Rafael Nadal’s career are we going to see the 2010 Wimbledon as the climax of a very good career?

Although, this may not be Nadal’s last opportunity it is apparent that he is definitely nearing the peak of his career and his dominance across the tour.

However, tennis fans have been seeing Nadal face some injury troubles these last few years. The most notable of them and still an ongoing problem for Rafa is the knee tendinitis that forced him to sit out last year’s Wimbledon tournament.

Sean Corvin, the health and fitness educator from Premier Training speculated about a year ago that Nadal’s knees are akin to those of a 33 year olds. This may not be exactly true but it does signal that Nadal is not going to be able to have the amount of longevity that is needed to be considered best of all-time. Now I’m not saying that Nadal would be the best of all-time if he can stick around and be near the top of the rankings in the years to come, but I am saying that he would and may still be in the discussion.

Injuries are a problem for any athlete but for Nadal it poses an even bigger issue. More than any player on tour, Nadal’s game relies so much on defence, hustle, and wearing down his opponent. He loves to get into long rallies where he knows he can outlast his opponent for each point more often than not, and as the match goes on he will be the more physically fit player. However, if Nadal is not 100% healthy his game is greatly diminished, as a key aspect of his strategy is taken out of the picture.

It isn’t just the injuries that may hurt Nadal down the line, it will also be his love for the game. Another glaring problem is that Nadal can’t seem to save himself from himself. Nadal plays more matches and tournaments during the tennis season than anyone on tour and even though he stated that this year he is going to cut back on the amount of tournaments that he plays in, John Macenroe mentioned yesterday that so far he has played more matches than anyone this year. If Nadal wants to win more majors it is going to take some serious will power to overcome his need to be playing so often,

With all that being said, it must be noted that Nadal is always expanding and improving many facets of his game. Recently Nadal has added a one-handed backhand slice that was shown to be very effective against Tomas Berdych. As well, each year Nadal is putting more and more juice on his serve and yesterday he had it topping out at 127mph.

Roger Federer's time at the top of the tennis world may finally be coming to an end

I think that another big reason that will allow at least some longevity for Nadal is that right now there looks to be no one that is going to challenge him in the next couple of years. None of Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, or Andy Roddick has proven that they can step into a major tournament and subsequently step up their game to take down Nadal or Roger Federer on a regular basis. Speaking of Roger Federer, at 28 it looks as though he is finally over the hill and probably won’t have a shot at winning more than a major or two down the road. Although I should mention that I felt the same way a couple of years ago and Federer just kept on going like the Energizer Bunny. Presently, Robin Soderling has emerged as the most likely candidate to consistently challenge at Majors but even he was beaten handily by Nadal in four sets this year at Wimbledon.

I can’t say for sure but I honestly don’t think that Nadal has been fully healthy at any point in time in the last couple of years. It is known around the tennis world that Nadal is one of the best clutch performers that the game has ever seen and that he can turn his game up a knotch or two when he has too. However, it is an inevitability that the injuries are going to get worse and as a consequence ramping up his game when he needs to is just not going to be enough to get him through major tournaments in the future. He needs to be healthy and it is just a matter of time before he will be unable to perform at the level that we are accustomed to seeing him at.

Currently Rafael Nadal is looking ahead to a gruelling hard court season and most importantly an attempt at his first US Open title. But what will be in the back of everyone’s mind is whether or not his best days are behind him.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. I’m now on twitter follow me @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favour.

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27 Responses to Nadal’s Last Chance?

  1. Loris Bertolacci says:

    My experiences with elite sport and clubs is that if you are not within the inner sanctum it is difficult to work out what is going on. I think there are a number of issues here and that is how Nadal ( and his entourage) have planned their preparation and maintenance program given the number of matches. Is he keeping fit with matches and cross training and low intensity exercise eg core work. Or is he a freak who just piles it on. The nature of the sport dictates that if you play more and more your chances of winning increase despite the theories around periodization and tennis. Just a dumb system with points etc. So tennis players have to work out how to do this. A 3 week block of crazy training in December is really irrelevant. I suppose I wrote my little blog article because really have to know what is happening in that inner sanctum!

  2. juniper says:

    Thanks for the comment!
    Maybe its my bias as a fan, but I think the best of Rafa is on the way. He has scheduled himself better this year[he has the most matches played, because he won almost everything on clay], he says he has a treatment which works for the knees, and he seems to be really hungry for the elusive US Open crown. We just have to wait and see :-)

  3. pacejmiller says:

    Good post.

    I’m not ready to write off Nadal or Federer just yet. When Nadal first missed a chunk of time, everybody was already writing him off, but he came back to dominate the field and reclaim his no. 1 ranking. Same as when Federer bowed out of a few Grand Slams. These guys seem to always find another way when the odds appear to be against them.

    It will be hard for Rafa to catch Federer given his health concerns — but given his imposing record against Federer, will say 14 Grand Slams be sufficient to proclaim him the GOAT (provided Feds doesn’t win another one)?

    A friend of mine reminded me that Del Potro, when he returns to tour, will be Rafa’s biggest nemesis. Rafa can’t seem to get that guy figured out just yet.

  4. kramerj7 says:

    Chris,
    Good stuff man. Keep them coming. I am impressed with your insight and analysis. Are you a former tennis player yourself? Also please check out my blog at http://www.sportskraze.wordpress.com.

    -Kraze

  5. Parvis Radji says:

    I’m a huge, huge Rafa fan. But I believe that he will not dominate tennis as Roger did. The way that Roger dominated is unbelievable and I hate to admit this. I mean the guy [almost] doesn’t even get injured. There even came a point I think 3 years back when every time he enters a tournament, it was surely that he wins it. And that was bad for tennis. The sport got boring.

    Rafa will be battling those knees for his entire career and I’m sad to admit that those knees may not hold up long. It’s not like those knees are gonna get better as he gets older and as he plays more matches. I just hope that before they deteriorate for good, he would’ve reached double-figure grand slam titles.

    16 grand slams is a tall order. But as what Rafa said, “I don’t wanna think about breaking records and all these crazy things. Let’s just wait and see when my career is over.”

  6. Kevin says:

    Great post, I do hope Nadal’s injury problems don’t curtail his career as I for one believe he could become one of, if not, the greatest of all time, given the opportunity of course, thanks for popping over and commenting on my post by the way.

  7. survivordean says:

    Nice writing style :) I enjoyed reading it.

    The Rafa’s longevity is already an old issue. We better need to ask his fitness coach and not simply based our assumptions with what other experts are saying. It’s already a given fact Rafa plays an injury-prone tennis and his knee tendinitis pains him regularly but Rafa is still here. He is still winning matches, tournaments and slams. Last year in USO, Rafa was injured but he still reached the semis. This only proved Rafa is much stronger on the insides than what we see on the outside. He is a fighter and he always finds a way to improve his playing style. The way I see it, he uses his obsession/love for the game as his advantage rather the other way ’round. Unlike Ivanovic and Djokovic, Rafa has learned to control the pressures around him. He appears to be the person who’s aware of his strengths and weaknesses while on court. Rafa understands the different sides of tennis; he knows he’s playing well if he wants to and he knows he’s winning when he’s fit.

    With that said, this what makes Rafa an even more popular athlete in the world. Look, I was not expecting him to win Wimbledon 2010 and it’s a big shame on my part to doubt Rafa. This win might not be the biggest of his career. The special moment will happen if he completes his Golden Slam. The US Harcourt will be difficult for him, yes, but like I said in the first few sentences, he is the person who finds a way to win. Never count him out.

    About Federer, it’s just fair to say he’s a bit unlucky this year. His draw in Slam were tough and he was forced to play beyond his limitations. We can speculate Federer is done (as well as Venus) because of their age. This might be true and we’re not here to judge. Let’s wait and see what will happen. Andre Agassi did the unthinkable during his time, who can’t them?

  8. Bradders says:

    Personally I don’t think Fed is anywhere near done. Its been said before a couple of years ago when he had a bit of a losing streak. He’s only 28 after all! As for Nadal – knees are certainly an issue if thats the case – but will despite this almost certainly win a hard court slam and end up with 12 plus GS’s I would say…
    Here’s my take on the Nadal and Federer thing http://compulsivehooker.wordpress.com/2010/07/05/the-great-and-the-merely-good/

  9. Subbu Iyer says:

    This is definitely a great perspective Chris. The concern about Nadal’s fitness is very valid. It is critical to note that the game has itself become very fast and the level of athleticism needed to remain at the highest level of the game is far greater than say, even 3 – 5 years ago. Nadal and players like him exhaust a huge amount of body muscle and energy in every match they play. Therefore, it could be entirely possible that Nadal may not remain on top for probably the duration that even Federer has survived. Certainly, nobody is going to be able to emulate Jimmy Conners and Ivan Lendl for their longevity and reign at the top of the tennis world. They belonged to a different era when the demands of the game and physical attributes were different.

    Therefore, Nadal and players of his generation will have to be judged / compared with other greats based on comparative attributes rather than pure statistical average. But as you have pointed out, Nadal has added the spin and slice to his arsenal that was hitherto absent. His serve may not be consistently above 130 MPH but he makes it up with a deadly kick and swing plus his angles are subtle in deception. The answer therefore is that, the more Nadal learns and creates a larger reserve of arsenal to play with, he is going to be able to overcome the adrenaline driven Berdych or a serve and destroy Haas. But he has proven once and for all that he is a true champion; both on and off the court. And announced his intentions clearly to be a front runner at the US Open.

  10. Karteek says:

    Great Post!
    Many things were new to me. I really didn’t know that the injury problems are so serious for Nadal. That kind of really hurts. But I really hope he will come back strong as he does when ever he is down in the matches. As it was written in the post and observed in the match, Nadal was hitting many aces and he was trying some exorbitant shots, though making some errors, unlike his earlier strategy of defense, hustle and tiring his opponent. That’s a good sign for all of us. Let’s stay optimistic and wish to see more of him.

  11. hotshot says:

    Great blog you got here! Keep it up! :D

    Here’s what I think:

    I don’t think this is Nadal’s last chance. He has every potential to surpass Roger Federer and even all the other tennis legends. At his age, he already has 8 Grandslam Singles titles under his belt, and still at the peak of his health. As for his injuries, I think he just needs to be careful so that it doesn’t get worse and hamper his career. With proper care and training, I think he’ll go off as one of, if not, the Greatest Tennis Player in history.

    As for Roger, he’s definitely nearing the end of his career. I’m a huge Roger fan but I believe we won’t be seeing him in every Grandslam final anymore, as is apparent at Wimbledon. We cannot discount the fact, however, that he still has the skill to win two or three more Grandslam Singles titles.

  12. pipheath says:

    Very interesting :) and thanks for your comment! I think there are definite concerns regarding Nadal’s knees having read your post, but to be honest I was glad to see him win Wimbledon this year instead of Federer for once because to be honest that man annoys me! I’m not the biggest sports fan and tennis is the only sport I watch, so you have educated me somewhat! Keep posting!

  13. saintbarry says:

    Thanks for checking out my page. This entry is very informative an interesting and entertaining. I’ll definitely keep on coming back.

  14. The concern about Nadal’s fitness is perhaps the reason why a lot of folks, me included, do not wish to put their hands up and say that he will surpass Sampras and even Federer. The concerns about his knees are legitimate and there are several instances of really physical players burning out. I can name Courier, Hewitt and Michael Chang among the few. There was Borg, then Wilander. These were all great competitors but the only one who comes to mind who stayed the pace was Jimmy Connors. And that was a more sedate era. I wish Nadal would keep on winning and keep on entertaining us, but even the most fanatical Nadal fan will have to admit that for grace and poise on the court, it is difficult to hold a candle to Sampras & Federer. The other comparison with Nadal would be Agassi but Agassi always played to a different drumbeat. He took his fitness seriously only after getting to the other side of 30. Who knows if Agassi would have stayed the course if he were not a well-rounded personality? I wish Nadal the best but the sheer robustness of his game makes him a strong candidate for early burnout. But let’s all hope otherwise.

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  16. Nice blog there!

    You know what? I thought it was going to Federer and Nedal this year. But Federer lost BIG TIME. He was so upset.

  17. apurvadesai says:

    Chris– nice post and great mix of analysis with research. I hadn’t heard that comment equating his knees to a 33 year old. If that’s true, then his longevity won’t be much longer. He’d better clean up these next two years.

    I personally think that Nadal will dominate the next 2 years, but won’t be able to sweep the Grand Slams each year. Federer won 10 Grand Slams during the age group 24-27 and Nadal has just turned 24 and won both of the Grand Slams he’s played in while 24. But getting 8 more grand slams over the next 3+ years seems like a tall order to me based on historical results– only Federer has ever reached that level of success during that age group. So, ultimately I don’t think Nadal catches Federer’s grand slam record. But I don’t think Nadal will relinquish the number 1 ranking any time soon. (See below for further thoughts on my take on Nadal’s outlook)

    http://apurvadesai.com/2010/07/04/a-renewed-look-at-nadals-case-for-greatest-of-all-time-goat/

  18. aangron says:

    thanks for visiting my blog. you’ve got interesting reads here!

    I agree with a lot of the points you mad. I feel like Roger is indeed over the hill. He may still win a couple but he will not dominate the slams as he once did before. The scare he faced in the first round at this year’s Wimbledon somewhat indicates that his dominance is over. A lot of the guys, especially the new ones are eager to beat him and a lot of them will. Although Roger has probably only lost a little of his edge, the big difference, the reason for his reaching only the quarters in the past 2 slams is that, the game of tennis is in transition once again. A lot of the new guys are more powerful now and have more endurance/stamina. Before, the grace and guise of Roger earns him winners left and right, now, he has to do a lot more and therefore commits a lot of unforced errors because the new guys chase each and every ball. And this has always been what irked Fed, at least I think so, that’s why he couldn’t really dominate Nadal.

    Now, about Nadal. He still has a lot more slams tucked under those biceps if he plans his calendar well. You are right. Rafa has a very physical game and although he got a lot of wins through it, it’ll also be his downfall. Those injuries he keeps getting will only get worse. Wear and tear. But he is improving his game and with each new shot he adds to his arsenal, hopefully, it cuts down on his running time thereby prolonging his career. But if he keeps playing like he’s been playing, he’ll never catch Federer in terms of number of slams won.

  19. pickle92 says:

    Perhaps Nadal and Federer should form a doubles partnership to prolong their playing careers. Many great players i: e Martina Navratilova, have lengthened their competitive lives by teaming up with somebody else.

  20. Very interesting article indeed. I hasten to suggest that a shortened career would harm his hopes of being considered one of the best ever, as Bjorn Borg did likewise (through choice as opposed to injury), yet remains classed among the elite.

    P.S Thanks for visiting and commenting on http://samparkersportsblog.wordpress.com/

  21. 2 Guys, 1 Blog says:

    Hey Chris I’m a huge tennis fan. I follow the sport a lot more closely than most. I think Nadal simply puts too much stress on his body. His style of play just isn’t conducive to a long career. I’m also a huge Federer fan, and I think he has a few more major titles left in him. I don’t know if he’s getting old, or just facing the type of slump he was in a few years ago. I hope its the latter. Tennis players go through slumps all the time, believe it or not Roddick was number 1 for a while till Fed came along. I hope that a few players other than Robin Soderling can come in and make some noise, so guys like Nadal and Federer have some people to challenge them.

  22. John says:

    Nice work, Chris. Been meaning to get back to you. I agree with you that the knees will be a worry for Nadal the rest of his carrer. He doesn’t play light on his feet the way Federer does. I thought he would play well when the European clay-court season began. But not as well as he did. Must have found some magic potion for those knees. Berdych definitely had his chances in the final, but couldn’t cash in when he had openings. That will come. Federer’s prowess is on the wane, but he is still very good. I see Nadal’s major competition coming from Berdych, Robin Soderling and Juan Martin del Potro in the future. Hope David Nalbandian and Nikolay Davydenko get back to top form. They have always driven Nadal nuts. U.S. Open really is wide open at this point.

  23. John says:

    Nice work, Chris. Been meaning to get back to you. I agree with you that the knees will be a worry for Nadal the rest of his career. He doesn’t play light on his feet the way Federer does. I thought he would play well when the European clay-court season began. But not as well as he did. Must have found some magic potion for those knees. Berdych definitely had his chances in the final, but couldn’t cash in when he had openings. That will come. Federer’s prowess is on the wane, but he is still very good. I see Nadal’s major competition coming from Berdych, Robin Soderling and Juan Martin del Potro in the future. Hope David Nalbandian and Nikolay Davydenko get back to top form. They have always driven Nadal nuts. U.S. Open really is wide open at this point.

  24. rulete says:

    This is the biggest bullshit I have ever read.

  25. Rulete, if it’s BS, it’s still very entertaining!

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