Rafael Nadal should maintain legend status and not attempt French Open

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal (PC: X)

Uncertainty and Rafael Nadal were alien to each other. That was till the time the Spaniard was the quintessential Alpha Male, strong as a bull and ready to gore opponents to death. Before anyone flags cruelty, that was Nadal to fans, someone who would outmuscle opponents with a brand of tennis which may not have been pleasing to the eye but was very effective. After all, the essence of the 37-year old’s approach to tennis was to decimate his opponents, even if it meant engaging the rival in up to 30 shots per rally.

In the last few years, or to be precise since January 2023, Nadal has faced a plethora of fitness issues which has seen him break down. It was almost at this time in May last year, Nadal had decided he was going to miss the entire season and come back strongly in 2024. His emotional appeal a year ago on social media resonated, for he was the champion who got immense love.

When love changed to compassion, that was the first sign, this is not the same bulldozer champion tennis fans have known him to be. Each tennis champion has his own insignia, his own aura, his own template. With Nadal, what was certain was he would be so strong physically, he could wear down any opponent, whatever be the surface.

It is this facet which saw him win 14 massive titles on the brick-red Parisian clay courts at the season’s second Grand Slam. He almost owned those tennis courts at the French Open, as he looked unbeatable. The beauty of sport lies in its unpredictability and how each champion has a shelf life. It is that fear, that self-doubt about his own body and capability which has today left Nadal in a confused state of mind. When he loses to opponents whose names you need to check on the ATP Tour website, indeed, the Bible for tennis lovers, it’s a sign, the winner of 22 Grand Slams is not the same force. When he lost to Hubert Hurkacz a few days ago at the Italian Open, it left Nadal frustrated.

For the Latest Sports News: Click Here

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal (PC: X)

How does one explain frustration in such scenarios, really? It is well known, in tennis, there is a peak period for each champion, since the wooden racquet age. More recently, modern tennis has seen even romantic relic Roger Federer cry and then retire in 2022. Having undergone three major knee surgeries, Federer knew he was never going to be the same. That he made a “killing” out of his retirement event and then waved a final goodbye is well known.

Unfortunately, Nadal is unable to do that. When he took a long break in 2023, he was hoping his battered and bruised body would hold up in 2024. That was more wishful thinking, even though fans still romance the champion who showed his gruelling brand of tennis. Damn, these days, Nadal’s body is ready to break down. It’s like that old car needing a pickup truck. For a man, who won so many break points during the course of thousands of matches in his career, it is break point these days with his own body.

One saw at the Australian Open in 2023, how he hobbled off the court after he lost to American Mackenzie McDonald. Even for those who love junk burgers, this defeat was hard, for Mackenzie showed appetite in beating a king-sized opponent. The number of injuries Nadal has faced is crazy. It is, as if, one part or the other is going to pack up. Such a state of being uncertain as to how his body will hold up makes it a big predicament for the left-hander who used to tease and torment rivals.

Today it is his own body which has become his enemy, where one is not sure which part will face trauma. The number of MRI scans he has undergone are crazy and the hours he has spent in trying to get back to peak fitness is at an all-time high. Athletes must listen to their body and Nadal seems to be in that mood right now.

Rafael Nadal with an outrageous stroke
Rafael Nadal with an outrageous stroke (PC: X)

His legacy at the French Open is unmatched. To win 14 singles titles is a feat which none can achieve, or even dream of. So, would it make sense for such a legend to come to Paris and get bounced out early this summer? Certainly, no. The last few weeks on clay have shown Nadal does not trust his own body, his own heart. He has never been so unsure whether he can face the rigours of tennis.

Yes, he does provide that odd spark or sparkle when he executes his artistic forehand. But then, he has to keep doing it. It is not as if opponents have decoded Nadal. No, Nadal himself has become vulnerable and is in two minds on whether or not he should even go to the French Open and show up. Yes, he will get a fantastic reception and get cheered. Surely, Nadal’s fans do not want to see him lose early.

Way back, when Andre Agassi retired, he had made his farewell tour into a commercial venture, where he did not even mind losing to a Tom, Dick or Harry. No, tennis fans love and respect Nadal for being a master and not someone who is here just for self-gratification. His final fling was always supposed to be the Paris Olympics. He still wants to play in the Olympics but is aware singles will be a tough task. To be banking on Carlos Alcaraz to guide him through the doubles draw at the Olympics is again risk-laden. But then, this is one chance he will have to take. If he wins a medal, that will be, indeed, emotional. But then, if Olympic medals are won on emotions alone, every underdog would be on the podium.

Yes, Nadal the underdog is the new code, even if you hate it. The next few months are going to be agonising for the 37-year-old legend. That’s sport, there is shelf life. To borrow from one of John McEnroe’s famous rants, if Nadal does not play even the Olympics, perhaps the American will say: “You cannot be serious!”

Also Read: Sai Sudharsan and the pre-Mother’s Day surprise