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January 26, 2011

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Australian Open 2011, Melbourne, Australia
January 26, 2011
Editorial by Jane Voigt.


Jane Voigt Photo
Jane Voigt

Door Slammed Shut on Nadal
January 26, 2011 -- Rafael Nadal is superstitious. It's common knowledge. He ritualizes his rituals. He ardently cares for every last element that falls within his realm of a tennis match. He should add Australia Day to his list of obsessions, now, or suffer the consequences. The universe has clearly spoken.
Wednesday evening on Rod Laver Arena the #1 seed and player in the world suffered an injury to his left hamstring two games into his quarterfinal match with David Ferrer. The courtside trainers assured Nadal that he could continue; he probably wouldn't exacerbate the problem. He did and lost in straight sets. No one saw this coming.
The serendipity of today's events can't be dismissed. Nadal was forced to retire from his semifinal match against Andy Murray last year on Australia Day. He had never retired from a match, let alone a grand slam.
If the ATP trainers had made a more sever assessment of his hamstrings' condition, Nadal would have faced yet another crushing blow in Melbourne. He would have said adios to his friend and opponent, to the Australian Open, and to his aspiration to win four majors in a row -- The Rafa Slam.
But for all his compulsive tendencies, Nadal is rather levelheaded. His work ethic is admirable. He realizes hard work reaps rewards, plus disappointment.
"You have higher moments and lower moments," Rafa said. "That's part of the sport. I am very, very lucky sportsman about what happened in my career. I have to accept, keep working, try my best in the next tournament."
Before the tournament began, he told the press that it 'was almost impossible' to win all four. But in the back of his mind the notion probably dangled at times, enticing his mind to run with the dream. That seems only natural.
What happened today left fans and the tennis world in shock and saddened. His competitive spirit will be missed, plus his respect for tennis and his fans. Additionally, another occasion for a Nadal/Federer slam final has vanished, just as it did in New York when Roger lost to Novak Djokovic in the semifinal at The U. S. Open.
So what's the message for Nadal? Two years in a row he has been thwarted in Melbourne at the beginning of a brand new season of tennis.
"I think I did all the right things to start the season, playing really well," Nadal began. "I was playing like this in the first exhibition in Abu Dhabi. After that starts the problem. Was a difficult month for me, no?"
Tour players on the men's side don't enjoy an honest-to-goodness break from their sport, as do most professional athletes. Down time is supposed to come after The ATP Championships. However, when the first major strikes in mid January how can men like Nadal relax any more than, say, a couple weeks? But Nadal didn't even do that.
Instead, Nadal took a few days off. That's a couple days set aside for fishing with his friends in Mallorca, let's say. He loves to fish and golf, but he didn't take the time. He decided not to.
He was involved in raising money for his own charities as well as Roger Federer's charities. These two matches were scheduled over two days. They landed in Basel not only for tennis but for a full day of promotional activities. The next morning, they flew to Madrid and duplicated their previous day topping it off with a gala exhibition match in the Magic Box.
ESPN and the tennis industry advertised both events heavily. People love to see Roger and Rafa getting along as if nothing comes between them except a tennis net. Patrick McEnroe called the matches, acting surprised at times how aggressively the guys went at it. McEnroe chuckled as he made his remarks. However they carried an eerie undertone that some could have sensed: these guys are working too hard for too many days out of the year. How about a rest?
"[Is] the vacation long enough? No, one day is enough, you think? With this sport you never have vacations enough. This factor is one of the special things that makes the tour hard and difficult."
Maybe his testy behavior in front of the press immediately following his loss was his own realization that he made poor scheduling choices for December.
Nadal seemed to put the blame on the virus he contracted after Abu Dhabi. He believes that left him susceptible for other things, which turned out to be a lame left leg. Again... no time off.
No medical evidence exists that says the Spaniard's style of play -- aggression personified -- causes physiological problems. One orthopedic surgeon wrote once on Tennis.com that he thought Nadal's go-for-bust tennis would be his demise. His feet would send messages up his legs to his knees and ultimately to his hips. He felt that Nadal would retire from the sport sooner than later.
Given the green light early in his match by the trainers, Nadal struggled to end points earlier than he would have against Ferrer. Their matches are marathons, normally, even on hard courts. They extend rallies and endurance is key to success. But Nadal did alter his strategy and tactics a bit. He took advantage of shorter balls more often, coming to the net for put-away shots. He hit serves out wide and tried to hit winners off returns.
Will these tactics endure? Or will pain be his touchstone? We will have to wait and see. Roger Federer, in his ripe age of 29, comes in more often since Paul Annacone joined the team. His tennis, in turn, has taken a more aggressive tone in attempts to shorten points and win them using a variety of tactics. Aggressive baseline tennis isn't the only way to win a match, although a majority of players seem anchored to the backcourt.
Nadal is excellent at the net. His volleys are perfect. His serve has improved to the point that it is a weapon. Serve-and-volley tennis demands good serving. Why not combine them and make his life easier.
As was said, we will have to wait and see. But, more than likely Rafa's tenacity and determination will win out over today's frustration, disappointment and dejection. That's why millions of people worldwide love him. He will work hard for the rest of the season. It's a guarantee. He will entertain us and awe us, just as soon as he's ready to safely return to the courts.


Earlier Columns from this Event:
January 25, 2011 Australian Open: What Are The Chances
January 24, 2011 Australian Open: New Kid on The Block
January 23, 2011 Australian Open: You Don't Say
January 22, 2011 Australian Open: Aching Aussie Hearts
January 21, 2011 Australian Open: Venus
January 20, 2011 Australian Open: The Others
January 19, 2011 Australian Open: Back From the Brink
January 18, 2011 Australian Open: The Unluck of The Draw
January 17, 2011 Australian Open: Spanning The Globe
January 16, 2011 Australian Open: Off To The Races

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