Are Rafael Nadal’s best days behind him?

There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding Spain’s leading player going into the Rio Olympics. Will Rafael Nadal rebound successfully following a bout with another career-threatening injury? Can Nadal return to those great heights that catapulted him to the very top of the en’s game? And finally, will Nadal be in great health in one of the biggest events of the year at the Olympic Games?

The conclusion of the 2012 season was a testing year for Rafael Nadal. He continued his dominance at Roland Garros, but overall, would have been disappointed with the way his year finished, losing early at Wimbledon then pulling out through injury at Flushing Meadows. An accumulation of bad luck with injuries really have set him back over the years, and one has to wonder whether the struggle at this point in his career could set him back permanently.

The persistent knee injuries affected the Spaniard regularly on the grass, mainly because of the nature of the low bounce on that surface. An emerging wrist injury completely affects everything for a tennis player and can be difficult to return from, as we saw in the case of Juan Martin Del Potro. Not only does it have a negative effect from a physical standpoint, every groundstroke is under intense scrutiny, which impacts the mental side of a tennis player’s outlook on their game.

With that being said, if one player knew how to combat adversity and cope with different parts of the body breaking down, it’s Rafael Nadal. One thing that the former World No. 1 will have to draw upon is the successful comeback he made in 2013 and 2014, where he made finals in 4 of the 5 Grand Slams he played consecutively–winning three of those five Majors in the process.

The seriousness of a wrist problem cannot be understated and that was illustrated in the very fact that Nadal pulled out of his most important tournament of any season–Roland Garros. It demonstrated that Nadal was not prepared to take any risks after serious concerns about his wrist and the risks of breaking it if he continued to play, was confirmed by his doctor.

The 14-time Grand Slam champion enters the Rio Olympics with more questions than answers. He has not played competitive tennis since Roland Garros, and match play is vital at the highest level of professional tennis, as many top-tier players will explain from having long absences. Even the likes of Andy Murray, following back surgery, suggested the fact that nothing reaffirms a player’s confidence at the highest level like winning tennis matches.

Nadal, now 30 years old, is reaching the latter stages of his career, but there are reasons to believe there is still room for more success in the months and years to come. The ATP tour is becoming an “older game”; many more players are experiencing their best tennis at an older age and it has become increasingly harder for younger players to experience a truly, incredible breakthrough at a younger age. Prime examples of that is the likes of Victor Estrella-Burgos, who won his first ATP title deep into his 30s. David Ferrer continued to play Top 10 tennis beyond his 30th birthday and even the likes of Ivo Karlovic is competitive at 37 years of age–still inside the Top 40, which is a phenomenal achievement.

It can be argued that one reason that could contribute to Nadal’s career being concluded at an earlier age is because of the brand of his tennis. Nadal’s tennis is one of the most physical sides of tennis you are likely to see. He commits to every shot with true dedication and commitment, which ultimately puts pressure on every muscle in his body. There is no question that Nadal can still play for a very long time, but it still remains to be seen whether an injury as serious as a wrist problem, will hold him back in the long term.

Nadal needs matches and if he’s restricted to no competitive tennis, is it realistic that he even plays the Rio Olympics? This is a dark period for Nadal, but if anyone can reemerge as a true grand slam contender and propel themselves back to the top of the men’s game–it’s Rafael Nadal.

Main Photo: