Youth, age 21! Success, three French Open championships, the first player since Bjorn Borg to achieve such a feat! Despite all these accolades, I foresee that tennis sensation Rafael Nadal’s star may be dimming. True, Nadal has succeeded where no other tennis mortals have, he is the only player to have infiltrated ‘Fedland’ on a consistent basis. By blocking him from lifting the ‘Coupe des Mousquetaires’ the last three years, Rafa has been the boulder preventing Roger Federer from being exalted as the greatest tennis athlete of all time. Many experts may argue that this conclusion maybe a tad premature. After all, Nadal has reached the last two Wimbledon finals and played competitively. He was particularly impressive this year, if a few points had turned out differently, he may have been victorious in lieu of Federer; hence, why such a gloomy prediction. Although time may be his ally, longevity may not be in his horizon. The punishment that his style of game inflicts on his own body may be his silent adversary.
A rash of injuries has caused Rafa to look less than ordinary at the last few tournaments. His game appears to be taxing not only on his opponents but also to his own physique. Such a comment may seem odd if one examines the subject in question. Without a doubt, the first thing one notices about Rafa is his musculature which in essence gives one the illusion of indestructibility. Yet, it is painful at times to watch him play. One gets the sense of that he or she is in a boxing arena rather than a tennis court, with so much punching and counter punching, one invariably starts to cringe. At the US Open this year in his first round match against Australian Alun Jones, the Spaniard had both knees wrapped and his facial grimaces with each stroke were a reflection of the pain he was undoubtedly suffering. There is no question, Nadal works extremely hard at tuning his body, therefore, the riddle becomes how to find a balance between aggressive play and energy conservation for purely survival’s sake.
A couple years ago, fellow competitor Justine Henin came to such a crossroad. If memory serves me correctly, Henin was not only sidelined by mononucleosis, she blamed her physical ailments partly on over training, building too much muscles, as such, she fired her trainer. Since that period, Henin has recuperated her form and is dominating the women’s game. For Nadal, the solution lies in his modifying his game whereby he is converted into the astute matador with all the majesty and pageantry that is usually displayed in a ring while maintaining the built of a bull. By developing other aspects of his game, Nadal will be able to utilize his variety so that his matches are a bit shorter so that his body will not fail him regardless of the surface he is tackling. To me, this seems to be the formula that will give him continued success. Otherwise, the news of a premature demise to his tennis career may not be exaggerated.