Rafael Nadal: Is the King of Clay here to stay?
Rafael Nadal is back! Though we are seeing a weaker side of the former World No. 1, he never fails to surprise us. Reaching into the finals of both the singles and doubles at the VTR Open in Chile, he has begun the journey to take over the tennis world yet again.
But the biggest question that has been going around is: "Will he be able to reign as he used to?"
The Big Three - Djokovic, Federer and Murray - have taken huge leaps in their games since the 7-month absence of Nadal. It is unfortunate on Nadal's side to not be on that list.
Nadal's knee injury, which came up after the upset against Lukas Rosol in last year's Wimbledon, has been quite serious, but that does not stop the media from making eerie speculations. Some say that he was just pushing the date of his return so that he could be back to his comfort zone on clay courts - which could very well be true as he is playing his first three return tournaments in Chile, Brazil and Acapulco. And these are none other than clay courts. This adds to the rumors that Nadal does not want to put those almost-healed knees onto the tough test. Well Nadal surely does not want to see himself in the condition he was seven months ago.
But Nadal unquestionably has the capability to come back, no?
Before we get down to anything, let us list Rafa's achievements since he turned pro in 2002 as a 15 year old.
When Nadal started his tennis career her was positioned at No. 762 by the ATP. He won his first ATP match and the year after won two Challenger titles which landed him to be ranked among the top 50. In 2004, he sealed the Davis Cup trophy for Spain 3-2, defeating World No. 2 Andy Roddick. Nadal finished at No. 51 that year.
In 2005, especially in the spring clay court season, Nadal clinched 24 consecutive victories, including the Monte Carlo Masters and Rome Masters drastically increased his ranking to World No. 5. Beating Roger Federer in the French Open semifinals, he grabbed his career-first Grand Slam and also went two spots up to being the World No. 3. He consecutively won the French Open till 2008. Once again he reached the Wimbledon finals with Federer as his opponent. With the match lasting more than five hours, Nadal won his first ever Wimbledon trophy in the darkness of London. He ascended to take the No. 1, becoming the first Spaniard in the Open Era to hold that position. Nadal was only able to win his first-ever Australian Open title in 2009, and other ATP tournaments, but went down one spot with an year-end ranking of No.2.
Winner of three out of the four Grand Slams (except the Australian Open); Monte Carlo, Rome and Madrid Masters; and the Indian Wells were the big highlights in 2010, and the year-end Win-Loss record was 71-10 for Nadal. Not winning any Grand Slams in the year of 2011, Nadal's career took a descend in the year after. Only winning on his favourite clay court at French Open, he faced a second round loss at Wimbledon against Lukas Rosol and took a break from tennis due to a severe injury in his left knee.
Moving on to his list of injuries, he has faced a lot of them annually throughout his career. He faced his first injury in 2003 in his left shoulder while training in his hometown which kept him out of French Open. Later in 2004, a scaphoid fissure in his left foot cost him two months of play and absence from Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the Beijing Olympics. Nadal was out for a total of 100 days in 2005 and 2006 with a list of injuries: inflammation of the left foot, tendinitis in the left knee and support problems in the feet. His knees suffered throughout the next four years, with tendinitis occurring in his right knee as well. Nadal then took a break of 10 days after Wimbledon with a peroneal tendon injury in his left foot as well as a hamstring. Last year he then faced a chronic injury to the patellar tendon in his left knee during Roland Garros, but eventually won it for the seventh time. The tendinitis returned after his second round loss at the Wimbledon which led to the cancellation of his participation at all major and minor tournaments for the rest of the year.
With a dozen plus injuries, and the major one affecting his knees, potentially dissolving his career little by little, we can only expect Nadal to play his best under such conditions. He was dearly being missed by his colleagues and opponents, and most importantly his fans and we can only commend on his confidence to return not fully recovered. We cannot give a number as to how long he is to stay, but there is an indication that retirement may not be far.