Nadal's recuperability his most impressive attribute

26May 2013

Roland Garros


While tennis fans will rightly marvel at Nadal's on-court performances at this year's French Open, they should be equally astonished at his powers of recovery, writes Jack Houghton.


In 2005, Rafael Nadal won his first French Open. Since then, either he, Federer or Djokovic have won 30 of the 32 Grand Slam finals that have followed. Of the two players who have spoiled that trio's perfect record - Andy Murray by winning last year's U.S. Open, and Juan Martin del Potro by winning the 2009 U.S. Open - neither will be at Roland Garros this year: Murray misses the tournament whilst he recovers from a back injury; Del Potro as he convalesces with a virus.


As far as statistics go, that 94 per cent record in Grand Slams for the Big Three says most of what you need to know about the last decade of top-flight tennis, but within that bigger narrative the French Open has a story to tell of individual dominance.


After his first win in 2005, Nadal has won seven titles on the clay in Paris, only losing one match there, to Robin Söderling in the fourth round in 2009 - a strike rate of over 98 per cent. And since February of this year, when Nadal came back from a prolonged injury that had kept him out of competition since Wimbledon last year, Nadal has won 36 of his 38 matches, winning six of the eight tournaments he's entered, having reached eight finals, all on clay. Is it any surprise, then, that he is as short as 1.81 to win his eighth French Open title this year?


In one sense, perhaps not, but what is remarkable is Nadal's ability to continually return from long absences and rapidly hit top form.


One fact that is often missed when talking about the dominance of the Big Three in recent times is that Nadal has now been absent from four Grand Slams during his career, as well as playing in a host of others when reportedly carrying injuries. By comparison, Federer has not missed a Grand Slam since 2000, and in fact has at least reached the semi-finals in every one since 2005. In the same period, Djokovic has been similarly omnipresent in the big tournaments.


Previewing the French Open in 2009, after Nadal had so spectacularly beaten Federer in the previous season's Wimbledon, I said that those who were writing Federer's sporting obituary - and predicting the total dominance to come of Nadal - were being premature in their predictions, and that the physicality of Nadal's game may well lead to his career being cut off in its prime by injuries.


Well, in one sense, those predictions have proved prescient: Nadal has indeed been affected by injuries that have required him to abandon matches and take time off from the sport more than most top-flight professionals. In another sense, though, the predictions were way off the mark, because whilst Nadal's attendance record has been comparatively poor, his achievement when returning has been exemplary.


In 2006, Nadal missed the Australian Open with a foot injury. A month later he became the first player to beat Federer that season, and three months later handed Federer his first defeat in a Grand Slam final to reclaim his French Open title.


In 2008, Nadal withdrew from the Shanghai Masters Cup with tendinitis of the knee, before returning to win the Australian Open less than three months later, where Nadal had to battle through two five-setters in the semi-final and final to win the title.


A year later and Nadal continued to feel the effects of injury, most notably missing Wimbledon, but he returned again to make the semi-finals of the US Open, before going on in 2010 to have his most successful season to date, winning three Grand Slams.


More injury scares followed in 2011 and 2012, culminating in Nadal missing the London Olympics and facing his longest lay off to date of around six months. And yet where do we find just three months later? Nadal looks imperious once again on clay and is the odds-on favourite to win the French Open.


Those who predicted the rapid decline and disappearance of Roger Federer five years ago may have been premature, but no more so than those of us who wrote Nadal off a year later.


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Even though they are in the same half of the draw, it's hard to look beyond Nadal and Djokovic (3.80) as likely winners, and with good reason: Federer has been woefully inconsistent this season; and while the likes of Ferrer (30.0), Berdych (75.0), Wawrinka (150.0) and Dimitrov (180.0) have all shown they are capable of progressing deep into lesser tournaments, their performances are still a big leap away from what is required to win a French Open.



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Keywords: Nadal, French Open, Ferrer, Berdych, Wawrinka, Dimitrov

Source: Betfair

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