“Rafa Nadal is done for”. “This injury will ruin him forever”. “Nadal’s getting old”. Lately, we have heard reporters’ and fans’ prophecies dooming Nadal to retirement or an inevitable dip in his tennis. After all, sometimes Nadal does seem closer to A&E than Centre Court.
No matter how often critics dig his grave, the Spaniard has nine lives or more. After every injury and string of defeats, Nadal keeps biting trophies, not the dust, dominating the clay circuit and the majors.
It’s no surprise though. Nadal has dealt with constant injuries since the beginning of his career. Despite his dodgy knees, Nadal’s work ethic is unbreakable – you feel that determination in his trademark baseline rallies, saving almost any ball, however tough it looks, often with unique passing or banana shots. If he is a “purely physical player” (another cliché), how come his tennis remains jaw-dropping even when he is half-injured?
He gets injured, his level drops, his comeback is stronger – Rafa’s story repeats itself. In 2012, Nadal disappeared for months due to knee injuries. By 2013, he returned for a brilliant season defeating Novak Djokovic (then number one-ranked) among others to win two Grand Slams.
In 2014, Nadal was shaken by back pain, then wrist pain, then appendicitis, but he won Roland Garros anyway. After a dire 2015-16, not only having to weather physical problems but also serious mental issues, including dizziness and self-confessed anxiety, he tumbled down to ninth in the ranking.
You thought it was the end, right? Well, now he is firmly number one and won a tenth Roland Garros plus another US Open. In Beijing, the Spaniard needed another tense comeback against Lucas Pouille and lost some sets, yet he fought back to win the China Open in superb style.
In short, Djokovic and Andy Murray are undoubtedly great players, but look who are still fighting for Grand Slam records: Roger Federer and Nadal’s peaks are past, but they are still out there on the court playing against players sometimes a decade or more their junior.
The longevity, which these two have brought to their glittering careers and the many times that they’ve seemingly resurrected their careers after injuries or setbacks proves that they really do deserve the title of living legends. They prove the show must go on, because they are true champions. Let’s hope they continue to grace the courts of Grand Slams for many years to come.