Is Nadal’s tennis career in jeopardy?
Rafael Nadal on Madrid's blue clay court (Image: Getty)
Steve Darcis has caused one of the greatest upsets in recent tennis history, defeating Rafael Nadal in straight sets, 7-6, 7-6, 6-4, in the opening round of the 2013 Wimbledon Championships.
This is the first time in his distinguished career that Nadal has lost in the opening round of any Grand Slam singles event.
Nadal, the winner of 12 Grand Slam singles titles, and a two-time winner at the All England Club, had been in sensational form since his comeback from a knee injury, that kept him out for about seven months.
He has won seven singles titles so far this year, including his eighth French Open at Roland Garros, and he is currently leading the ATP World Tour’s Singles Race to London, already qualifying for the ATP World Tour Finals in London at the end of the year.
However, his shock loss to Darcis in the opening round at Wimbledon has raised questions about Nadal’s fitness and condition, as well as his longevity in the game.
Nadal has battled a congenital foot disease involving the tarsal scaphoid bone in his left foot, which caused him to miss the 2006 Australian Open; an injury that could have ended his career at the tender age of 19.
However, with careful adjustments to the soles of his tennis shoes to help support the tarsal scaphoid, Nadal was able to continue playing tennis at a very high level, but with some bad consequences to other parts of his body, such as his knees.
Nadal missed the 2009 Wimbledon Championships with knee tendonitis, after losing in the fourth round to Robin Soderling at the 2009 French Open, his only loss at Roland Garros.
However, the injury wasn’t as serious as the seven-month layoff he had after losing to Lukas Rosol in the second round at the 2012 Wimbledon Championships.
But this new low has raised further questions about his future in the game.
In 2012 Nadal played 48 matches for 42 wins and six losses before his seven-month injury layoff. So far in 2013, Nadal has played 46 matches for 43 wins and three losses in a shorter timeframe than he did in 2012.
So he has got to ask himself the question, is it worth playing when he can only play this amount of matches per year?
Nadal’s playing style is a type that not many people can match, or sustain for such a long period of time; a style that puts excessive strain on his body.
It is a playing style that he is willing to stick to through thick and thin, and his stubbornness to change his style of play, combined with his fierce determination, is why many millions of people across the world have loved watching him play.
However, is it worth it to continue playing when he has achieved so much already?
If Nadal can only play 45 to 50 matches, and he wants to become the world No. 1 again, well, it is not going to happen, even in the most realistic scenario, because he can’t accumulate the points he would need to reach the very top of the game once again, even if other top-ranked players were all inconsistent.
Nadal may have to retire from the sport that has treated him so well, yet so harshly.
However, I am sure Nadal and his coach will be patient and make some tough decisions on his career in their own time.