Fresh off a record ninth win at the French Open just three weeks ago, Rafael Nadal has seen his path to the Wimbledon cup this year stymied by 19-year-old phenom Nick Kyrgos. The 144th seeded Kyrgios booted the previously injured No. 1 seed, Rafael Nadal, off the court in the Round of 16 yesterday, winning the match in four sets, and making for an upset full of excitement. While much of the health-related focus this tournament has been on the ailing Serena Williams and her decision to retire in the middle of her doubles match yesterday, a look at the current state of Nadal’s injuries may also be in order.
Rafa Nadal’s career when he first stepped into the grand slam spotlight in 2005 to win the French Open seemed like a juggernaut. The soon-to-be tennis legend appeared unbeatable, even for the likes of Roger Federer, who was reigning champ in all things grand slam at the time. The young phenom created an electric excitement in his games against Federer, to whom he offered a polar opposite in style and play. Where Federer’s game was calculated, intellectual and very technical, Rafael Nadal’s presence on the court was all power, muscle and speed. Really the only way anyone could hope to beat Nadal in those early years was to try to get him to a fourth or fifth set but his shark-like tenacity and powerful game would usually make quick work of his opponent before he had a chance to wear the tennis titan down endurance-wise. It was no surprise, then, that in 2008 the champion was sidelined with knee injuries.
More than a little wear and tear is expected in elite athletes, and especially tennis players. Their sport requires a myriad of twisting, sliding and rotating of joints. This makes up part of the excitement on the court, and Rafael Nadal certainly delivers in that respect. Nadal also came from a soccer, a sport which is also notoriously difficult on the knees. The first of the tennis star’s knee injuries occurred in 2008 as tendinitis, where he was forced to bow out of many tournaments, and eventually miss the summer grand slam season in 2009. During that time, Federer went back to being on top, and a new underdog burst forth in the form of Novak Djokovich to help fill the rivalry gap, but fans missed Nadal’s speed, power and precision.
In 2010, Nadal returned to grand slam play, but tendinitis never fully heals, so his injuries have recurred a number of times. Nadal has still managed to win the French Open every year since 2010, but his knees have been a constant concern. A player like Rafael Nadal with so much speed, agility and excitement in his game, unfortunately, was bound to have some repercussions, and his knee injuries have taken the brunt of the strain. In 2012, Nadal also saw an injury to his back and a hamstring strain put him on sabbatical again after losing in second round play at Wimbledon. Though he was learning to be more technical in his game, it seemed Nadal’s joints were still causing him problems, as was the grass court at Wimbledon.
After a 7-month leave from the court in 2012, Rafael Nadal was able to make a rapid recovery from this round of injuries and came back in 2013 with a exciting win in both the French and the US Open, reaching the finals in 13 out of 14 tournaments in the season. He also reclaimed the number one seed in 2013, and still holds it after winning the French Open on June 8. Some reports have surfaced in the Daily Mail UK that while rehabbing his knee this time around, his medical team used a new treatment called PRP or Platelet-rich Plasma Therapy, and this may have made a difference in his recovery. PRP works a little like stem cells, in that blood is drawn from the patient and run through a centrifugal device to separate out the platelets, believed to be instrumental in healing and regenerating tissue, and then re-injecting them at the site of the injury.
Whatever the cause for his recovery, Nadal seems to be on the mend and making strides towards more records in the future. His loss at Wimbledon this week, however, will no doubt send tennis fans wondering once again about the state of his knees and back, and how long he will be able to continue at his current pace. Though he has slowed down, Rafa’s greatest strength still remains his speed and power, and the four set match on Sunday certainly sticks with the trend of Nadal’s endurance not necessarily being on par with other players.
No news has surfaced yet about whether Nadal will need to take the US Open off in August. In fact most reports coming through from his camp are denying that his loss had anything to do with his injuries. That’s what makes up at least part of the excitement of Rafael Nadal’s career, however, the drama with which he plays on the court, and the drama of his ongoing battle with his injuries off the court. Fans will be glued to the US Open one month from now to see the 2014 season’s conclusion to this ongoing battle.
Commentary By Layla Klamt