One of the two great certainties in life, taxes are something no one likes to deal with. Whether it’s having to see a chunk taken out of your bank balance, or your money do backflips through several accounts in the Cayman Islands, they’re a real pain. Still, at least it’s only money. For Rafael Nadal, ‘tax’ can take on an entirely different meaning – the tax of being, well… Rafael Nadal.
After adding this week’s Nitto ATP World Tour Finals, Nadal has now withdrawn from eight significant tournaments in the past nine seasons, either due to a bum knee (Wimbledon ’09, USO/WTF ’12, WTF ’17) or wrist (USO ’14, RG/Wimby/WTF ’16). Simply put, there’s a significant physical cost to playing the way he does, one that comes about from the same things that make him such a special player.
Whether it’s the explosive violence of every forehand, the wrenching torsion of every backhand, or the reckless abandon with which he slides around the court, Nadal’s body is constantly under a stress unlike anything we’ve ever seen before in professional tennis. Indeed, you could argue he would’ve broken down much more often were it not for his unrivalled commitment to conditioning, and as we see when players don’t put in the time in the gym *cough*Nick Kyrgios*cough*, you can struggle to get away with much less.
Of course, that’s little consolation to the legion of fans that now won’t get to watch him in London, but if there’s a silver lining, it’s that the same history that forebode this breakdown also indicates he’ll recover – yes, even at the age of 31.
Assuming the indications he made when he announced his withdrawal are correct, this latest stumble is due to the same knee tendinitis that sidelined him previously, and while tendinitis is no joke, it’s not as serious – or as reliant on youth to recover from – as something like a ligament tear. In any case, you’d hate to count him out, and it would be especially foolish to do so after a 2017 season that was nothing short of ridiculous.
With two majors (where he went largely untouched), nearly a third (up 3-1 in the fifth on Roger Federer in Melbourne), two masters titles, two 500-level titles, three other finals and year-end number one for the first time since 2013, he was as incredible as ever. Also consider how he started the year – clinging onto ninth in the rankings, hoping just to find form after his aforementioned wrist injury – and what he accomplished goes from incredible to godlike. By comparison, he’s doing okay right now.
Perhaps the real issue going forward isn’t so much this injury, as his risk of it becoming a more frequent occurrence in his twilight years, and it would certainly make sense if he started thinking more about self-preservation. When able Nadal doesn’t play so much of a full schedule as a morbidly obese one, and his 2017 was a testament to that, playing three weeks straight in February-March with Acapulco, Indian Wells and Miami, five out of seven weeks in the clay court season, both USO masters warm-ups, and two weeks straight in the Asian leg. 2018 would be a good time to start slimming that schedule down, if not in quantity, then at least in spacing. After all, there’s always going to be the tax of playing the most brilliantly unique style of tennis on the planet – with age the cost will already go up, there’s no need to drive it further.