As Rafael Nadal touches American soil for the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, there seem to be more questions than answers regarding his physical condition. Nadal prefers to let his play do the talking. After nearly a nine month drought, the Spaniard collected his 65th singles title at the Argentina Open this past weekend. While worldwide, Rafa fans are ecstatic to see him holding yet another trophy, the doubters are flooding social media pages. The “King of Clay” returned to his favorite surface and turned back the clock looking more like himself; easily discarding Juan Monaco 6-4, 6-1 in Buenos Aires. Nadal, who has battled several injuries since winning his last title at the French Open June 8, 2014, felt the importance of this victory.
“All titles are special,” said Nadal. “But I’m really happy because I have not been a champion for a long time. Against Monaco, I played my best of the week. That’s great news for me because I’m trying to gain more confidence.”
The fact Nadal is lacking confidence is nothing new. That fierce quest to improve and succeed motivates his every move. The truth is he spoke much the same way after returning from a long absence in 2013. At that time Nadal suffered what many perceived to be potentially career-threatening knee problems. After seven months away from the sport he loves, the lefty returned not just to the court, but to the number one spot with an impressive 65-4 match record including two Grand Slam titles.
The question now is: can he do it again? And can he do it here in Indian Wells where as the number three seed he will face the best players in the world on hard courts?
Last year Nadal lost to Alexandr Dolgopolov in the third round of the Desert Classic and showed signs of his body failing under the stress that is the Rafa style of hardcore, all-out tennis. And here is where the critics chime in with full vigor. On Facebook, Twitter and comments on recent articles, the prevailing sentiment is that at 28 Rafa is: “Done, on his way out.” His body, they claim, just can’t take the punishment. And the win in Argentina was against Monaco, the 48th ranked player in the world, not a top two contender. Plus, one entry noted: “It was on clay, not exactly the prominent surface on tour.” And that is something Nadal is lobbying to preserve. He hopes to shine a light on the effects of the pounding on the body of tennis players like himself.
“Clay is a traditional surface of our sport, we need to protect that,” said Nadal. “Most of the players on the Tour like sport in general so we want to keep having chances to practice sport and enjoying life.”
Nadal noted how many of his fellow competitors are also suffering from injuries due to the growing number of tournaments now played on harder surfaces. It’s something the Argentina Open Champion feels very passionate about.
“You can check on the tour (statistics) that many players have injuries so there is something we are doing badly,” argues Nadal. “In my opinion, it’s important to be healthy not only during your career but also afterwards because you have a life outside tennis and after your career.”
As for his future, Nadal doesn’t pay attention to the critics, he’s heard it all before. He is concentrating on one day at a time.
“I’m playing a little better every day,” he said. “I said when I arrived in Buenos Aires I feel closer to level than one month ago. Winning titles helps to continue working. The injuries are in the past. I have no physical problems. In terms of tennis, in the past I have been able to get back to my best level (after injury). As you get older it gets harder but I don’t see why not, I have the motivation and passion.”
And that is undeniable. Win or lose, Nadal’s mark on the world of tennis, his passion and work ethic combined with his humility transcends surfaces and generations.
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