There is something about the Indian Wells-Miami hard court swing that seems to consistently destroy Rafa Nadal’s troubled knees. Today Rafa announced that he would not continue with the tournament by withdrawing from his semifinal match against Andy Murray.
There are two ways you can look at this latest set back:
1) It’s about self preservation.
Nadal’s been having trouble with his knees since the Australian Open (and years before that). His right knee locked up and he could barely move it when he stood up from a chair.
He stood up from a chair.
He wasn’t sprinting, twisting or changing directions he was just standing up after sitting down. To say this is unusual is an understatement. Since then, despite six weeks of training and rehab, Rafa hasn’t been right.
The fact that he’s pulled out rather than flogging his knees any further could be an excellent sign. Maybe, finally, Rafa and his team have learnt that when the knees say ‘no’ you listen or you are forced to skip Wimbledon (think 2009).
Maybe Rafa has realised that his chances in Miami were limited and that his chances on the clay and grass courts were substantially higher and he has decided to preserve himself.
2) The knees are worse than we realise.
Nadal walking away from a semifinal match is never a good indicator. Repeated visits from the trainer while on court has never been a good indicator. Sports commentators saying they saw Rafa lying on his back for some time receiving treatment is not a good sign. His physio, Rafael Maymo, leaping from his chair midmatch to retrieve something for the sports star at the first sign of trouble is not a good sign.
The way I see it there are a few different ways to proceed from here
1) Pull out of Madrid.
Obviously unless his leg is falling off he will play Monte Carlo (like we saw in 2009) to maintain his winning record. He’s made no secret of his plans to play Barcelona but he’s also made no secret of his disinterest in the blue clay they now have in Madrid.
He should pull out of Madrid.
I said this in 2009 and I’m going to say it again. No good can come from playing on clay in Madrid.
He is most vulnerable on the clay there. The altitude doesn’t suit him. Everything about Madrid is bad preparation for Roland Garros, even if they have switched Rome to being the final lead up tournament.
Rest him as much as you can. Play him only when you need to. Team Nadal must step in and control their charge.
It takes a small village of people to raise a man, however genetically gifted, to the heights that Nadal has reached and it may be time to throw something new into the mix.
I’m not saying Rafael Maymo is doing a bad job, I’m just saying when you see one patient only for years on end you get… a bit blind. You can stop seeing the subtle changes, you have a management plan that you rarely deviate from and you can get complacent.
Clearly something has been missed. Rafa’s falling apart at the seams.
He’s had so much treatment on his knees but how much have they done to ensure the biomechanics of his chronically horrendous foot are as good as they can possibly be so they stop driving his knees to the brink of disaster? Have they worked on unwinding his thorax to provide him with improved shoulder mechanics?
A fresh pair of eyes can help. Even if all it serves to do is light a fire under Maymo to try something new. Study some other techniques. What is being used isn’t working.
It’s also Maymo’s job to reign Rafa in when he’s doing too much and that has clearly, even to an observer, been a big issue within the Nadal camp. Maymo is paid to step in and stop him before he grinds his knees down to the point where he can barely move in Paris and has to withdraw from Wimbledon.
Learn from your mistakes. Try new things… that’s all I’m saying.
3) Drastically change his schedule.
He doesn’t need the money. If he’s not set for life now there’s a big problem.
Rafa could easily become the greatest player tennis has ever seen but if he keeps playing too many matches his body will wear out and he wont reach his full potential. Just look at the number of unusual viruses, shoulder problem etc etc that he’s had… the body will only warn you so many times.
Nadal needs to call in sick a few days, not be afraid to rock the boat, take more time out – otherwise what we’re going to see is a Lleyton Hewitt-esque cripple who’s career was a constant battle and who’s later years were painful and debilitating. It will also deal with the mental fatigue we’re starting to see and re-ignite the fire in his belly.
Clearly he’s failing to transfer load optimally throughout his body and so you have no choice but to take time out and re-educate you’re body as well as possible. Two to four weeks in December isn’t going to cut it. You wont find the time in the ATP calender unless you make time by making yourself unavailable.
Don’t bother with Doha, go straight to Melbourne.
Don’t bother with the early stages of Davis Cup and other smaller tournaments. Play Indian Wells and Miami then rest before Monte Carlo.
If you have any problems brewing Madrid should be the first one to go.
After Wimbledon you rest – no Davis Cup.
After a break you play Canada, Cincinatti and the US Open before resting again. Every time you fly thousands of miles for exhibitions and Davis Cup you are spending prolonged periods sitting, you’re going to start seeing sacral restriction and dehydration of the intervetebral discs and therefore altered rotations through your body. You’re also losing rest time which between the tennis, golf and media commitments you’re simply not getting enough of.
Don’t play Tokyo or Beijing, just Shanghai before Paris and the World Tour Finals.
To actually give his body a chance to survive he has to do a serious cut back for at least two years to reduce the volume of activity and the beating his body is taking if he wants to keep playing.
If he doesn’t want to keep playing… well, go hard or go home. Just don’t come crying to us when you’re an arthritic 70 year old who can barely move.
“I am not ready to compete and I cannot go on court and lie to everybody. That’s the thing today.
Today is bad news, but that’s the sport. We cannot expect playing as much as we play, be perfect every day of our life. Today is my turn.
Since the beginning of the tournament I have problems, but the real thing is growing worse every day. So after the last match, I saw that the situation was going to be complicated to play today. But, as always, I always believe that the things can improve.
I did a lot of treatment yesterday, waiting, that we can recover a little bit for today. I am very sorry for the fans. I’m very sorry for the tournament. But I don’t have pleasure.”