Rafael Nadal, where does one start with this man? A 14-time grand slam champion and a force to reckon on the clay court; he is easily one of the greatest players of the Open Era.
Known for his aggressive game play and the ability to marvel at utilising top spin, Nadal has a game that can make many a champion go weak in the knees.
Sliding onto tennis courts in brightly colored apparel, coach Uncle Toni in tow, Nadal in express time managed to catch up with several greats of the game by conveniently tucking one Grand Slam title after another under his belt.
Since his 2005 win at the French Open, Nadal has managed to amass an equal number of fans and critics, who have since grown in massive volume, and continue to add on by the hundreds.
While the former could not stop praising his confident demeanor in putting down one great player after another at both Grand Slams and ATP Master’s events, the latter did not tire questioning his style of body-intense gameplay.
The Spaniard chased each and every ball down like a raging bull with the confidence of a champion to boot. Nadal has managed to finish many tournaments without dropping a single game, which in itself is quite a big achievement.
His greatest victory is largely viewed as his 2008 defeat of Roger Federer at Wimbledon, where, adjudged a spoil-sport by many, he managed to stop the latter in his tracks towards becoming the first to win six consecutive Wimbledon titles.
Nadal, who has to his credit an Olympic gold medal, 4 Davis cup wins and 27 ATP Masters 1000 titles, will continue to remain the greatest clay court player of the open era with more number of title wins than one can count on all fingers and toes!
However, all this success has come in at a big price for the current world number 5. Nadal bowed out of the Miami Open citing heat exhaustion, which puts back focus on the debate over his health issues. Although this does not sound like a grave injury, it makes you wonder if Nadal’s body has weakened to the point where it cannot withstand a little heat.
It is to any tennis enthusiast’s knowledge that Nadal’s career has been marred with multiple injuries. Right from his knee, wrist and lower back, he has had to move past one career threatening injury after another to put on show his undying spirit for the love of a game that he holds so dear.
2012 proved to be Nadal’s worst year in terms of injuries when he was off the court for a little over seven months owing to the same knee injury that had been bothering him for a very long time. The break seemed to take a toll on both his game and his raging confidence on the tennis courts.
Nadal, better known as the king of clay, proved to be a genius on clay courts time and again and remained undefeated at the French open for nearly a decade. But his struggles on hard courts have not gone unnoticed, with his Australian open track record remaining pretty dismal; but for his win at the event in 2009.
Subsequent to his Australian open victory, many critics opined that the then 23-year-old Spaniard had no more than a good two years to prove his mettle on the courts before running out of steam. Nadal, however, vociferously proved them wrong by adding 9 more Grand Slam titles to his kitty, over the course of the next 4 years!
He outlasted several big opponents to win three major slams (barring Australian open) repeatedly and, put to rest any doubts over his style of play affecting his career’s shelf-life.
But now, Nadal seems to be showing signs of slowing down considerably. His form continues to worsen and has moved to a point where he either pulls out of a tournament in advance, citing an injury or is shown the door within the first few rounds of an event--Nadal has not managed to win a Grand Slam title in almost two years.
Is his style of play to be blamed?
It is a given that form is everything when it comes to individual sports but there is only little that one can do about when their chosen style of play happens to be a bit more physically demanding as compared to what other players choose to adopt on court.
It is out there for anybody to see the amount of pressure that he continues to exude on his body (especially knees) owing to over-relying on speedy gameplay, but it is that very quality that has helped Nadal bag all those Grand Slam and Master’s titles; by putting his body to the ultimate test and not settling for a change in style to please all those that condemned it.
Many fans and critics, alike, believe that it is a matter of time before his body gives up on him owing to such intense physical demands; with some thinking that it has already set in.
Nadal recently spoke about his struggles with his knee injury and stated how he has undergone several surgeries and treatments such as PRP, which he claims worked great the first time round but not so much the second. He continues to undergo treatments to bring him back to prime form, or at least something close to it.
Many people, in recent years, have consistently slammed Nadal for his inability to put on his primal prowess on the tennis field, but it is evident that support has poured in from the tennis community in the form of praises for the 29-year-old Spaniard’s achievements till date, including notes from his regular nemesis on the tennis court, Roger Federer.
In a recent interview, Federer said, “It was clear that Nadal would become the number one already in very competitive times.” He has on many other occasions ladled praises over Nadal and how he continues to be his toughest opponent yet.
What’s next for Nadal?
Despite all those injuries and giving the major slams a miss, Nadal has managed to find a spot for himself within the top five rankings in world tennis, while often claiming and remaining at the top spot for consecutive weeks.
And for a champ of his calibre to be booed off the court for failing to put up a show in sultry conditions is slightly heartbreaking for millions of Nadal fans all over the world, who are raring to see him regain his exceptional playing form.
The debate on whether he will ever be able to catch up with Federer has now upped a notch considering how the latter is showing no signs of slowing down (albeit his absence in Miami owing to a knee surgery) and manages to reach many a Grand Slam finals.
Nadal, on the other hand, seems to have slowed down considerably and is not the same fiery player that the world is used to seeing. Both his knee and wrist injuries seem to be pulling him down, time and again, denying him a chance at both defending his titles and beating others’ records.
With Djokovic poised to surpass Nadal’s 14 Grand Slam titles, many wonder if this truly does mark the end of a mammoth career, where Nadal will not be able to climb back from the dungeons of injury to successfully defend the titles that he has to his name.
But wait, are we being a little hasty here in prematurely writing off such an ace player? Just how many times in the past have we seen Nadal bounce back and win a title or two (or 9) regardless of the kind of injury affecting him?
Given his brand of “undefeatable” fighting spirit, it should only be a matter of time before he rises to the top once again, and crushes opponents with his killer style of play; or, at least, fans of the Manacor resident can hope so!
With 14 major slams in hand, Nadal needs 4 more to go one up on Federer, which despite looking like a very intimidating prospect, cannot be put past this champion of champions.
Here’s hoping to Nadal not missing any more Grand Slams henceforth and successfully winning many!
Go Nadal, go!