Will Rafael Nadal’s Body Hold Up Much Longer?

by Tom Houdebine (Contributor)

Rafael Nadal aggravated his injury sustained in Australia right before the start of the Acapulco Open (ATP 500) last February. Although Rafa is confident he will be ready to go for the clay court season this month, many have questioned his durability and ability to maintain his body.

 

There seems to be a pattern here

Since his loss in Shanghai against Roger Federer, Rafa’s body has not allowed him to finish a tournament. He pulled out of the Swiss Indoors and could only muster two matches in Paris before the Masters, where he played one Round Robin match before calling it quits. This year he couldn’t go in Brisbane and had to forfeit in Australia against Cilic in the quarterfinals. Acapulco was supposed to be his comeback tournament but yet again he had to pull out.

 © Olga Besnard | Dreamstime.com
© Olga Besnard | Dreamstime.com

It makes sense that his body breaks down

Three factors can help understand Rafa’s woes: His demanding style of play, a loaded schedule and limited rest between tournaments.

Unlike Federer, Rafa practices pretty much the same tennis he used to when he was 20. Long rallies and herculean efforts on defense are bound to take their toll on the body. Last year Rafa played 78 singles matches when Federer played in only 57. His hectic rhythm doesn’t allow him to recover properly and jeopardizes his longevity. An incredible stat is the average number of days of rest between tournaments. Rafa averaged 9.8 in 2017 while Roger’s average was 18.7.

 

Clay season will show where his body is really at

The last six months have risen a lot of questions for Rafa. In the short term, his season will be heavily compromised if he isn’t 100 percent by the time Montecarlo comes around. He looked very good in the Davis Cup against Germany but we are yet to see him perform through an entire tournament. In the long term some say his career is in peril if he doesn’t learn to listen to his body and plan around it.

After Federer´s run in Indian Wells and his surprise exit in the first round of the Miami Open, Rafa was able to recover world number one status. However, he only leads the Swiss by 100 points. With massive points to defend on clay it is hard to imagine that he will be able to stretch the lead by the time Halle’s grass comes around. The question will be if Rafa decides to take it easy for the sake of his future or if he will go all in like he has so many times. The latter option seems more like Rafa but incredibly risky in the long run. The first option would probably bring Roger back on top and see Rafa pull back in the rankings.

 

How does the sooner, affect the later

The more important question, however, is how will Rafa be able to have prolonged success in his twilight years. Although Federer has become an incredible example in that field, Rafa has yet to answer that question.and apply the necessary changes in order to play in his mid 30’s.

Federer has proven that his body calls all the shots. He might be hungry and mentally ready but if his body isn’t 100% he won’t hesitate to take extra time off just to make sure he stays competitive. The Swiss maestro decided to sacrifice the entire clay court season again this year, anticipating his body wouldn’t hold up.

On the other hand Rafa has shown his whole career that he is willing to play hurt and take his body to the limit. A formula that often forced him to step away for long periods of time. So if this strategy didn’t always work in his young years, what is to make us believe that it will now that he’s older?

It quite certainly won’t and Rafa must figure out a new approach balancing longer periods of rest and intense stretches of effort. If he wants to keep chasing Federer he will have to learn the art of communicating and being in sync with his body.

 

Why we doubt Rafa can go as long as Roger

Managing the calendar and prioritizing your body is a matter of discipline.

No doubt the Spaniard can learn these things just as well as his rival. However, another factor is to be taken into consideration. Rafa’s style is the antithesis of Federer’s and it will most likely be the reason why, in the end, Rafa will not be able to play as long as Federer.

The Swiss can regularly go through a match in under 60 minutes while Rafa’s “easy” victories take at least 90. In a Grand Slam Federer’s five setters can shockingly take as much time as Rafa’s “long” three setters. It is hard to imagine that Rafa can keep up a pace like that for many more years.

 

  • Tom brings the French Slice (he’s originally from Paris) from Guadalajara , Mexico.

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