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Life Imitating Art 07/29/2009 - 3:09 PM

87961097 by Pete Bodo

Yesterday I wrote about how Roger Federer is at a significant career crossroads, and one of the more interesting subplots in this plot-rich rivalry Federer enjoys with Rafael Nadal is that the same could be said for Nadal. And if the events of the last 12 months in Federer's life have been unpredictable and surprising, constituting a narrative of the kind on which Hollywood thrives, with all that Journey of the Hero baloney they teach in film school, Nadal's own trials have a decidedly Biblical flavor.

This is a case of life imitating art, because there's a measure of verisimilitude in those comparisons. Federer is tennis's version of a fabulous leading man in the old-school tradition: he's sophisticated, he bears his enormous gifts lightly (but without ever abusing or betraying them), he enjoys wearing $3,000 suits and feels no obligation to proclaim his manliness. He prefers a good fashion show to, say, deep-sea fishing. Mostly, though, his career has been distinguished (generally) by an extraordinary ability to make the difficult appear easy, and a penchant to let everyone else do his worrying for him. He's like a Swiss James Bond; they don't do gun-play, bedroom romps, and potent cocktails all that well there.

By contrast, Nadal is all grit, glistening biceps, and unruly hair. He's boyish; the second impulse many women feel in his presence is a profound desire to give him a motherly hug (that this is vastly different from the first impulse is a subject we'd better leave for another time). It's easy to picture Rafa as an extra in The Ten Commandments, although a more profound analogy might call upon a comparison of Nadal with the subject of the Book of Job. Only Nadal's relative youth keeps that one from hitting the bulls-eye, but with Federer unlikely to vanish from the tennis scene soon, even that qualifier might have to be discarded.

Nadal's accomplishments have been glorious, already. But a more intriguing and volatile story-line was placed over his developing record, like one of those transparent panels containing various body parts in a biology textbook. And that was the theme of Nadal's pursuit of Federer - an unavoidable theme, given the Spanish youth's ambitions. It's probably time to peel back that panel, because anybody who thinks that a primary goal of either man's career is bringing down the other is just plain nuts. That the accomplishment of either man's stated goals inevitably includes having to triumph over the other is more of an accident of the way the game is structured than a motivational force for either Federer or Nadal. Rivalries are not just wonderful, they're pre-ordained. And has any comparably riveting rivalry so conspicuously lacked what we would call "bulletin board" material?

Just as the tribulations of the past 12 months have tempered Federer, we can expect to see a different Nadal emerge from his recent, enforced absence from tennis. Already we see a more sober, muted champion than the one to whom those great prizes - a Wimbledon title, an Olympic games gold medal, the no. 1 ranking - were something to strive for, a job into which to put his back with blinkered eyes. In the coming months, Nadal will face challenges parallel to the ones Federer surmounted this summer; but the theme won't be catching Federer any more than derailing Nadal was a preoccupation for Federer. It will simply be getting back what he once possessed - health, stamina, and those cherished ATP ranking points. For Federer, this past year was largely a psychological call to arms; for Nadal, it will be a physical one, although we all know that the two are intimately related.

The news these days out of Manacor has been slightly disconcerting as well as puzzling. If you read the interviews and articles closely, you might also detect an undercurrent of doubt and perhaps even sadness in Rafael Nadal's remarks about the status of his knees. For example, did you note how he emphasized the need to learn how to "overcome difficult situations or face them with a positive mindset and learn to enjoy suffering. . . [it is] is a virtue that I’ve always had, I like to suffer, I have learned to enjoy suffering and I believe that is what helps me."

We needn't make too much of this; a taste for suffering is an attribute of of many great athletes, in all sports. The more alarming quote from Rafa was his simple explanation for why he pulled the plug instead of defending his Wimbledon title.  "I decided it was best to stop and recover because you lose the drive to go back to train and compete, because you are not with the same energy, little by little it destroys you."

This is not just dramatic; it's also a sad if unflinchingly realistic assessment coming from the mouth of the 23-year old. And if the observation can be construed as a threat to Nadal's career, it's chiefly in an area related to his love of the game - a theme we worked over pretty well yesterday. It's hard to love playing when doing so is downright painful, and the source of stress and anxiety. Nadal will have two major issues to deal with when he does return: the physical state of his knees, and the mental drain of worrying about those knees.

My own feeling, though, is optimistic. Nadal is a fighter, and he knows as well as anyone else what's at stake in the next few weeks. He's always done his heavy lifting for the year by the end of Wimbledon, which has hampered his enthusiasm and effectiveness at the U.S. Open. Soon, he'll embark for the first time on the quest for the American national title with a hard-court major in hand and plenty of rest. He could meet Federer's ante and complete his own career Grand Slam in 2009, which would certainly make this one of the most extraordinary of years in tennis.

Great players tend to see challenges as opportunities rather than daunting tests - witness how Federer took extra care to prevent Roland Garros from slipping away from him. One reason Nadal has seemed a little down lately may be less alarming than it may appear - the kid probably just misses playing. Pete Sampras was comparably bummed out when he was forced to miss the U.S. Open of 1999 with an unexpected back injury, and he's spoken eloquently of how depressed he became in the subsequent weeks. But he returned soon enough, and made the finals in New York for the next three years running (winning once).

Brushes with mortality, especially for the young, are never easy experiences.

Perhaps there will be an up-side to the time Nadal's had to spend away from tennis recently, although it would have to be a whopper to make up for having to miss Wimbledon and being forced the yield his no. 1 ranking without a fight. The time off has given Nadal ample opportunity to assess where he stands; the ways in which his career is no longer about achieving the typical goals that any great young player sets himself. In this next stage, Nadal needs to forget any distracting sub-plots and focus on what he wants out of the game, and his long-term source of motivation.

Sometimes it seems like the only two people who aren't especially interested in defining Federer and Nadal through each other are. . .Federer and Nadal. So, if you can see things through their eyes, Federer's accomplishments during Nadal's absence are not just irrelevant to the coming weeks (except in the sense that Federer will be a more confident player), they have liberated Nadal to adopt the role he knows best, and which has thus far defined his career thanks to the parallel excellence of Federer - that of the determined, hard-working underdog. But now he'll be motivated by a desire to recoup what's been lost, rather than to merely hang on to what he's earned, or add another title to his collection.

Unless his knees prove troublesome, Nadal may find himself in a much better place mentally once he gets out on those hard courts and starts smoking the forehands and belting those returns.


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Posted by Emma (insertwittymantrahere) 07/29/2009 at 03:21 PM

Oh Pedro. *speechless, which is an oddity* I loved this. I will leave a more coherent and in depth comment after I've stopped re-reading it.
Outstanding.

Posted by Andrew 07/29/2009 at 03:23 PM

Um. Interesting quote: “I decided it was best to stop and recover because you lose the drive to go back to train and compete, because you are not with the same energy, little by little it destroys you.”

Interesting to juxtapose it with the quote from Mats Wilander in yesterday's article about the other crossroads: “It wasn’t that easy (to recover from the effort) and it didn’t just go away in one day. It was more than a 'beer hangover' so to speak. It was deflation - you pump up the balloon so much and eventually it just exploded.

“I still loved to play tennis afterward, but I did feel like there was something just a little bit different when I was playing. I was hitting shots that didn’t have a purpose and that was very difficult for me to handle because up to the US Open finals in ’88, every ball I hit had a purpose. To then suddenly to start hitting shots for no reason was tough and it ended up being very deflating to my character on the court.”

Posted by Emma (insertwittymantrahere) 07/29/2009 at 03:34 PM

"the second impulse many women feel in his presence is a profound desire to give him a motherly hug (that this is vastly different from the first impulse is a subject we'd better leave for another time)"
LOL, I'm only 21, and even I feel slightly maternal towards Rafa at times. As for the first impulse, I'm far too ladylike (LOL) to discuss *those* feelings, although take my word for it, they're there alright!

"It's hard to love playing when doing so is downright painful, and the source of stress and anxiety"
*sadface* Poor Rafa. However, I have faith that he will come out of this stronger and wiser than ever before.

"they have liberated Nadal to adopt the role he knows best, and which has thus far defined his career thanks to the parallel excellence of Federer - that of the determined, hard-working underdog"
This line is perfection Pedro. Kudos. I love seeing Rafa as the hard-working yet unfailingly humble underdog, it's what appealed to me about him a few years ago.

I could go on and on quoting, but I won't.
Suffice it to say that this is such a great article, I really enjoyed it so much. You've just done such a great job in nailing down all the important storylines for the upcoming weeks.
Thanks so much for this Pedro, I'm astounded at how well you write.

(Vamos Rafa)

Posted by rafadoc 07/29/2009 at 03:35 PM

Pete: Great, great post. I need to re-read later, as I am at work. But thanks for your insights. You have put everything well in perspective.

Posted by Pspace (Lestat Time!) 07/29/2009 at 03:41 PM

I think Mr. X pointed about that the "enjoyment of suffering" doesn't have quite the same melodramatic connotation in Spanish that it has in English. That said, Rafa didn't sound too upbeat in his interview.

One hopes for the healthy, happy, cliche-spouting, topspin whipping, bicep flexing Rafa of the past. Tennis needs him. My gut feeling is that once he steps out on to a show court again, it'll all come back in a flash. No one enjoys the competitive aspects of the game more.

Posted by Lynne (Rafalite) 07/29/2009 at 03:43 PM

I think this is a wonderful post, the best yet. Not because it is about my favourite tennis man, but because it conveys everything I am feeling at the moment.

Posted by VC 07/29/2009 at 03:45 PM

Nothing much to add, except to say, beautiful article again.

Posted by Cosi 07/29/2009 at 03:46 PM

Nadal will have two major issues to deal with when he does return: the physical state of his knees, and the mental drain of worrying about those knees."

oh bullfeathers, just the other day you said that only results matter when talking about Roger, and that conversations about injuries and illness is just barstool talk.. so I guess only results matter with Nadal too, the rest about his knees is just sinsignificant barstool talk.blah

Posted by Pete 07/29/2009 at 03:54 PM

Cosi - I never mentioned Rafa's injuries at tournaments where he played - note that I didn't mention his comments on Madrid and his performance there. That's my code.

I feel justified discussing the subject (thought it all through, of course) because he missed a chance to defend his W title because of his injury. If Roger had skipped the Aussie Open because of his back, I would have talked about that, too.

Put down the Kool-Aid, for gosh sakes.

Posted by Black Matt 07/29/2009 at 03:56 PM

Cosi - my understanding of what Pete said that talking about injuries and illnesses in relation TO RESULTS is barstool talk. But this is not talking about injuries as a way to explain Nadal's loss at Roland Garros - but more as a theme of what HE will have to deal with mentally for the forseeable future.

One has to do with the unchangable past; the other with the as-yet unwritten future.

Posted by seaweed 07/29/2009 at 03:57 PM

oh dear. i haven't read the original interviews or anything, but is rafa having some kind of a justin henin moment? didn't she say words to the same effect?

Posted by Lynne (Rafalite) 07/29/2009 at 04:00 PM

Happily, I've now perfected the art of scrolling.

Posted by Nam1 07/29/2009 at 04:02 PM

Cosi,

you are a consistent Nadal hater and have always put him down every time I have ssen your posts, so why waste your time and ours , you know this is a article about Nadal and if you dont like it , click your mouse and move over.

Pete, awesome article and thank you for doing justice to 2 greats one day after the other.

Posted by Nam1 07/29/2009 at 04:04 PM

Seaweed, No, please!! don't say that , I am already bummed enough about the hints of sadness in that interview!

Posted by seaweed 07/29/2009 at 04:06 PM

oh, nam1--sorry! actually, i'm a little worried, too.

Posted by Mr. X 07/29/2009 at 04:06 PM

That was very interesting, Pete.
As Pspace said, it is my idea that the "enjoy suffering" comment from Nadal has more to do with not giving up in the struggle to go through tough times than with the concept of physical pain and suffering itself, though i could be wrong. My main argument to say that is that Nadal has also made this comment in Spanish interviews several times in the past, to talk about how he overcomes eventual difficult situations in long matches.
About the article, it's really all about the knees. If the knees hold up well enough, i believe he will get his career back on track. However, if the problems keep appearing again and again, it's very difficult to know if he will stay away from the feeling of despair.
The main positive i keep taking from all this is that he seems to be considering changes in his schedule, and that he talks more and more about winning "the important tournaments". Maybe, as Pete says, that could indicate getting into a different stage of his career. And that's right, now he's back in the role of the underdog, that he seems to prefer.
Maybe he wont be able to stay away from the knee problems completely, but he will find a way to be at his best in those important tournaments. That's the most optimistic scenario i can imagine currently. As he said, "the numbers when i'm in perfect shape give me confidence".

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 07/29/2009 at 04:07 PM

Pete Nadal as the 11th Commandment? hey I would like to see that.

Listenting to recent interview with Rafa he has admitted that he a has to look more closely as his playing schedule.

About time.One would have thought after his retirement in Paris last year that would have hit home.The problem has been ongoing and will be ongoing until he hangs his tennis racquet up and goes fishing.

His excellent year of 08 winning Wimbledon and taking over as the no 1 player is now to me like a faded memeory.

I would hate to see him have to retire early.

When playing in pain as he has of course that places doubt in your ability and confidence in your play.That goes hand in hand.

I hope he fully tests out those knees before returning.

I would hate to see again another time out.

Knowing Rafa though he takes everything in his stride.

I am confident we will see the Rafa we have all come to admire and respect.

Yes Vamos Rafa.Gee I havent typed that in ages lol!.

Posted by Pspace (Lestat Time!) 07/29/2009 at 04:07 PM

I wish there was a more NBA/NFL style attitude toward injury. Why is it such a big deal when an injury is mentioned as a contributing factor to a loss/victory? The last two years, it's led to a million arguments.

Tennis is an extremely physical _sport_. If you can't show up healthy and ready to play, it's unfortunate. That's about all you can say. I guess what ppl want to hear is that the other guy played his ultimate best game and came up short. Well, good luck getting everyone to agree.

If we want to apply asterisks to every match with an injury, then
the last un-asterisked match between Federer and Nadal was RG '07, and the last one between Fed and Murray is Shanghai '08. I mean, when there are so many injuries, it's kind of a joke to get all in a twist about it.

Posted by Mr. X 07/29/2009 at 04:09 PM

By the way, Pete, if i may make some criticism, the worst part of the article is by far what's not written, the photo: the shirt of doom.

Posted by Alexis 07/29/2009 at 04:12 PM

Pete, good article.

I understand what Cosi said and I understand your response to what Cosi said. But sometimes the line can seem gray. I mean, sometimes it is hard to differentiate between players choosing not to participate because of an illness or injury (when maybe they could have played) and players choosing to play through an illness or injury (and thereby not getting the normal results).

Some people question whether Fed could have played DC and Dubai with his back. He probably could have but felt it better not to. Same with Nadal and Queens/Wimbledon.

Posted by Grant 07/29/2009 at 04:14 PM

"I wish there was a more NBA/NFL style attitude toward injury. Why is it such a big deal when an injury is mentioned as a contributing factor to a loss/victory? The last two years, it's led to a million arguments."

Yeah, I don't get it either. I mean, on the one hand it's annoying when people try to use injury to deny a result, but it's just weird when people try to avoid such a situation by denying reality.

Posted by Samantha Elin, supporter of all things Scandinavian 07/29/2009 at 04:15 PM

Pete, this really captures the essense of Rafa. He really does bring out the mother in you. Everything about him is like a little boy. I think he even still lives with his mom. I don't know much about Spain, but I guess Spanish boys live longer with their families. Good luck to Rafa in his comeback, he has proven that he can play on any surface and I miss him putting his little water bottles in order. So cute. Go Caro, Scandinavia's#1, world's#9!

Posted by Alexis 07/29/2009 at 04:19 PM

"Sometimes it seems like the only two people who aren't especially interested in defining Federer and Nadal through each other are. . .Federer and Nadal. So, if you can see things through their eyes, Federer's accomplishments during Nadal's absence are not just irrelevant to the coming weeks (except in the sense that Federer will be a more confident player), they have liberated Nadal to adopt the role he knows best, and which has thus far defined his career thanks to the parallel excellence of Federer - that of the determined, hard-working underdog. But now he'll be motivated by a desire to recoup what's been lost, rather than to merely hang on to what he's earned, or add another title to his collection."

*clap clap* Perfect summation of Fed and Nadal.

Posted by rafadoc 07/29/2009 at 04:19 PM

"The time off has given Nadal ample opportunity to assess where he stands; the ways in which his career is no longer about achieving the typical goals that any great young player sets himself."

Absolutely. From his interview (thank again to Mr. X for translating), this is exactly what Rafa has done. I believe him when he says he has made mistakes and has learned from those mistakes.

As for "suffering", Rafa has been trained by Uncle Toni to tolerate a lot, which is why, for example, at IW this year, he was able to deal so well with the windy conditions. Unfortunately, he appears to have taken this approach with his pain too. "Deal with it, suck it up" so to speak. Pain is a different animal though. Glad he appears to have made that distinction in his mind too.

Posted by Emma (insertwittymantrahere) 07/29/2009 at 04:20 PM

"the photo: the shirt of doom"
Mr. X- I still love Pepto Bismal Rafa, although I suppose we'll never get to see him again.

I'm off out for the night, bye everyone!!

JUST SAY NO TO FEDAL WARS!

Posted by rafadoc 07/29/2009 at 04:25 PM

Alexis: I think that Roger's choice to withdraw was "preventative" (and absolutely the right choice) and Rafa's was beyond that point. I don't think he could have played. Damage was done, unfortunately. I hope that makes sense. :)

Posted by rafadoc 07/29/2009 at 04:28 PM

^^ In other words, both Roger and Rafa made the right decisions, based on circumstances. I wish Rafa would have made a decision to stop the "Rafa train" sooner-taken a more preventative approach, like Roger did.


Posted by Mr. X 07/29/2009 at 04:29 PM

"I guess Spanish boys live longer with their families"
Indeed. Like, till we are close to 30. Planning on leaving earlier myself, but i dont know if i'll have the money.

Emma,
No, no, no. That color spells D-O-O-M

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 07/29/2009 at 04:29 PM

Rafadoc I think all players play with some niggling injuries.Though everyone has their "pain threshhold".I think Rafa said to himself enough is enough.I noticed in Madrid there was something wrong and honestly I held grave thoughts for him competing in RG.Well thats history now isnt it.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 07/29/2009 at 04:31 PM

mR X Rafa's h/court and US OPEN outfits are 100% better,than the Easter Bunny outfit I can assure you.I never thought I would say that lol!

Posted by Mr. X 07/29/2009 at 04:36 PM

About Rafa's pains prior to RG, i must admit i didnt see it coming. I thought his Madrid performance was due to his general dislike of the tournament and the court, and i believed he was gonna win RG easily, specially after the Hewitt match. Heck, ir memeber posting something along the lines of "the number of games Soderling will make tomorrow will depend on how mad Rafa still is at him".
Brilliant. Just brilliant. That comment could win an award for "most inaccurate of the year"

Posted by Lynne (Rafalite) 07/29/2009 at 04:37 PM

Lol, Mr X. I thought exactly the same thing!

Posted by Grant 07/29/2009 at 04:38 PM

"Heck, ir memeber posting something along the lines of "the number of games Soderling will make tomorrow will depend on how mad Rafa still is at him".
Brilliant. Just brilliant. That comment could win an award for "most inaccurate of the year""

I dunno, maybe Rafa had really, really forgiven him.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 07/29/2009 at 04:39 PM

Mr X I think Rafa thought I will be playing at RG different type of clay which is true,remember those courts at Madrid were newly laid,gee they were watering them in between breaks? I will be interested to see how they Play next year,regardless of the altitude.

Posted by manuelsantanafan 07/29/2009 at 04:40 PM

Regarding Rafa's "mistakes," yes, he's made a few. However, I wish my mistakes had limited me to $19 million in official prize money plus many more millions in appearance fees and endorsements.

One of the comments that Rafa made in the July 28th TVE interview was that, when he's healthy, he's achieved good results.

That's one of the understatements of the year. But it is so true.

I don't pretend to read Rafa's mind, but I get the sense that his attitude generally is: "Let me be healthy, and if my opponent's best is better than mine on a particular day, congrats to him and I'll try to get him next time."

Pretty simple approach, but it seems to have worked fairly well for Rafa and real tennis fans so far.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 07/29/2009 at 04:43 PM

Manuel Gee that goes without saying

A fit and healthy Rafa?

We Gonna See No?

Posted by JohnC 07/29/2009 at 04:43 PM

I have difficulty seeing how healthy knees are compatible with Rafa's style of play.

Posted by v 07/29/2009 at 04:45 PM

Once again, Great Great Great article Pete! I loved it! :)

Posted by Master Ace 07/29/2009 at 04:48 PM

Indeed, it will be very interesting to see if he manages his schedule. If he does change his schedule, I can see him winning Slams like he has already accomplished but I feel that his biggest task will be the USO Hardcourt season as the courts play quick.

Posted by Mr. X 07/29/2009 at 04:49 PM

Grant,
Boy, if he forgave him SO much, his benevolence knows no limit:)
AM,
In my opinion, he kept winning tournaments with pain, and thought he could still win RG with pain. But i think it probably got even worst (remember the rumours that he had had some problems before his first match), as he said he had to be infiltrated.
msf,
Those great results are the exact reason why he should reconsider his whole schedule to get to the Slams 100% healthy (or as close to that as possible). Look at what happened this year at the AO.

Posted by Master Ace 07/29/2009 at 04:49 PM

Also, it will be interesting to see who Pete will talk about tomorrow.

Monday - Dinara Safina
Tuesday - Roger Federer
Wednesday - Rafael Nadal

Posted by Grant 07/29/2009 at 04:49 PM

"I have difficulty seeing how healthy knees are compatible with Rafa's style of play."

Well, I suspect that he'll always have knee pain to some degree, but if he listens to his body instead of just trying to play through it, he may be able to avoid being hurt for the most important tournaments.

Posted by Todd and in Charge 07/29/2009 at 04:50 PM

My vote for Best Pete Post of the Year.

Alas, I fear the knees will indeed prove troublesome.

Posted by manuelsantanafan 07/29/2009 at 04:52 PM

"I have difficulty seeing how healthy knees are compatible with Rafa's style of play."

Is Rafa the only tennis player who has sprinted around the court? Anybody who thinks that hasn't seen players like Tom Okker, Vitas Gerulaitis, or Bjorn Borg play.

As far as style of play contributing to injury, Rafa's three-set victory in the 2008 Roland Garros finals struck most observers as being rather efficient.

OK, a deadline rears its ugly head.

Later.

Posted by Genuine Realist 07/29/2009 at 04:54 PM

I have no doubt the immensely likable Rafa has serious issues with his knees. But the timing of the announcement could hardly have been worse. He should have said something after a win, not after a loss.

Posted by Grant 07/29/2009 at 04:54 PM

As Rafa and Roger can both be expected to play fewer tournaments in the future, the men's tour in the next few years could end up loking a bit like the WTA of the last few.

Posted by Cosi 07/29/2009 at 04:55 PM

Posted by Pete 07/29/2009 @ 3:54 PM

Cosi - I never mentioned Rafa's injuries at tournaments where he played - note that I didn't mention his comments on Madrid and his performance there. That's my code.

I feel justified discussing the subject (thought it all through, of course) because he missed a chance to defend his W title because of his injury. If Roger had skipped the Aussie Open because of his back, I would have talked about that, too.

Put down the Kool-Aid, for gosh sakes"

Well, I never concocted an excuse about Roger having mono, he really did have mono, nor did I ever concoct excuses about Roger's bad back either, he really did have a bad back and both of those things did come in to play alot in the last year and a half. If that is to be dismissed as "barstool talk" in regards to roger's results, guess we better dismiss any talk of Nadal's KNEES or FATIGUE in regards to his results (His results DO include not defending Wimbledon, where his result was a massive loss of points) as simply concoted barstool talk and focus more on results, since after all, they are all that count! I'm surprised you didn't jump on all that talk about fatigue and sore knees allowing Robin Soderlnig to beat Nadal at the French Open, just as suprised that you didn't call any Nadal fans or pro Nadal writers out for giving about fifteen excuses other than that Roger was better when Roger beat him in Madrid (altitude, fatigue, bad knees, bad attitude, you name it). I like consistency.

Posted by Charlie M 07/29/2009 at 04:57 PM

In Madrid I thought it was the courts. They did not play like the clay he was on in MC, Rome, and the smaller Spanish tournament he played. And why did he play the small one if he was hurting? I really don't get that one. He certainly should pick his schedule more carefully.

He has to be very careful. There are many a great player who retired early due to chronic injury and exhaustion- Hoad, Hingus, Austin, Henin, Clisters (coming back) etc. He hurts himself more during the clay season than he realizes.

Hopefully, this hiatus will put him in the best shape he has been going into the US Open when he is usually at his most fatigued. He is a great kid. He is a real sportsman- one of the really wonderful things about both Roger and Rafa. He is simple in his youth, with a very direct manner of looking at his matches and career. It is going to be fun watching him grow up a bit. I am sure it is happening to a certain extend based on his family's woes.

It's not just Federer who can beat him, as Nadal is hardly the only one who can get Federer. Both have to be in good shape to beat back Murray, Djokovic, Roddick, DP, and whoever is streaking at a particular tournament.

Posted by Mr. X 07/29/2009 at 04:57 PM

Grant,
That will probably mean Muzz will win a bunch of Masters, specially the HC ones. Or maybe he will also find some physical trouble in the future (not that i wish it at all). He does his fair share of running on court, too.

Posted by Cosi 07/29/2009 at 05:00 PM

Posted by Pspace (Lestat Time!) 07/29/2009 @ 4:07 PM

I wish there was a more NBA/NFL style attitude toward injury. Why is it such a big deal when an injury is mentioned as a contributing factor to a loss/victory? The last two years, it's led to a million arguments. "

I agree with you, if people are going to promote a no excuses attitude about injuries, they should include ALL players in that standard, not just Roger, who, Ironically, is one of the least likely players to milk, fake, or take an injury time out, or retire or withdraw from matches our tournaments. Of all people, he should be given the benefit of the doubt when he says he's in pain or has a problem, because he's not the kind of player to make that up and he's not a wimp about pain either and is quite stoic so you know it takes alot to get him down. Of all players, he too should be given the benefit of the doubt when his form is crap, I mean he has one of the most successful records in men's tennis of all time, anybody with eyes that's been watching for several years knows what level he's capable of playing at.


Posted by JohnC 07/29/2009 at 05:04 PM

"Is Rafa the only tennis player who has sprinted around the court? Anybody who thinks that hasn't seen players like Tom Okker, Vitas Gerulaitis, or Bjorn Borg play."

MSF, it's not sprinting around per se, but how you sprint. Take Borg, another clay court demon, who had a genuine lightness of movement. And the problem with tendinitis is that it only gets worse unless one discontinues the repetitive activity that caused it in the first place (which makes it different to muscle strain).

I'm having trouble being optimistic about this, and the sense I get from the interview is that Rafa is himself not convinced it will be all good.

Posted by Grant 07/29/2009 at 05:09 PM

"That will probably mean Muzz will win a bunch of Masters, specially the HC ones. Or maybe he will also find some physical trouble in the future (not that i wish it at all). He does his fair share of running on court, too."

Yeah, injuries make prediction difficult, but I'm hoping to get a glimpse at the USO of who'll step up in the next few years.

Posted by seaweed 07/29/2009 at 05:16 PM

"real tennis fans so far."

msf, are there tennis fans you consider un-real? ha ha. just kidding. i'm just trying to relive a moment in american political satire.

Posted by Tim (2009 Year of Red Rogie ) 07/29/2009 at 05:17 PM

lol i always laugh when people talk about 'mothering' rafa ...

pulease! euphemism alert!

Posted by manuelsantanafan 07/29/2009 at 05:27 PM

I don't know enuf about Rafa's form of tendinitis or tendinitis, in general. Your lack of optimism may be warranted.

But, if Rafa's knees don't allow him to continue the life of a pro tennis player, so be it. It would be a shame. Somewhat like Nolan Ryan throwing 95 mile an hour fastballs for 20 years in the majors and other pitchers, who don't throw anywhere near as hard, blowing out their arms after one season.

Now, I'm really out of here.

Posted by jewell - Campaign for Fedal Disarmament 07/29/2009 at 05:28 PM

"the second impulse many women feel in his presence is a profound desire to give him a motherly hug (that this is vastly different from the first impulse is a subject we'd better leave for another time)."

LOL LOL LOL, so true. Sigh.

Back up to finish reading. :)

Posted by manuelsantanafan 07/29/2009 at 05:29 PM

Or not.

My 5:27 was a response to John C.

Posted by Samantha Elin, supporter of all things Scandinavian 07/29/2009 at 05:32 PM

Tim, you can't deny that Rafa has a little boy quality about him. I don't find him sexually attractive at all, he's too much of a boy for that. The sprinting, jumping up and down like an excited child.

Posted by Tim (2009 Year of Red Rogie ) 07/29/2009 at 05:36 PM

samantha thats because you think cliff drysdale is hot, lol, he could be rafa's grandfather! lol

just from the zillions of breathless posts ive read here over the years, I dont buy the 'mothering' thing at all, at least Fed fans who find him hot as a skillet and wanna whisk him away to a private locale fess up and admit it!

Posted by jewell - Campaign for Fedal Disarmament 07/29/2009 at 05:38 PM

"I don't find him sexually attractive at all, he's too much of a boy for that."

Now I feel kind of twisted. :)

Nice post, I agree with all of it, I think. And I hope, if he can manage his schedule a little better, he'll be able to manage his knees. I think he knows where he's gone a little awry and I think he has enough insight into himself and enough desire to ask himself the hard questions and make changes accordingly - boyish or not, he ain't stupid. :)

Posted by roadrunnerz 07/29/2009 at 05:41 PM

"He's like a Swiss James Bond; they don't do gun-play, bedroom romps, and potent cocktails all that well there."

I dunno about the gunplay thing, Pete, considering every able-bodied man in Switzerland has a military rifle in their closet...

:)

As for Rafa, I just finished watching his interview and didn't find anything particularly glum or foreboding in his words. (Granted my Spanish is only passable so parts of it I didn't entirely understand). I think, being the fighter he is, the toughest thing for him will be to NOT play through pain anymore, but to see as what it is, a warning signal, and modify his playing schedule according.

Being a huge Fed fan, I sometimes wish I COULD hate Rafa, seeing as he's made life plenty difficult for my guy. But he's also brought out the fighter in Fed, which I love him for. And, while I'm not crazy about Rafa's playing style, I adore him off the court. It's impossible to dislike him. I can't think of too many mega-athletes his age that haven't let it all go to their heads and retain the kind of fabulous attitude towards life that he has.

Another thing that struck me during the interview was his calmness and maturity. There was no fidgeting and he looked both suave and comfortable. Sometimes I think the Federer = sophisticated, and Rafa= simplicity, labels aren't exactly just. Rafa's a spiffy dresser off court too.

I wish him all the best and hope that he recovers fully.

On a more selfish level, I'm crossing my fingers for a few more Fedal finals. Even if most of the time they don't go my way. :)

Posted by Matt Zemek 07/29/2009 at 05:42 PM

Tim and those upset at/by Tim:

Let's head off the tensions at the pass, nip them in the bud, etc., etc.

Vin Scully retired today (effective at end of 2010 season). In honor of his stature, let's have debate and discussion worthy of him.

Posted by rafadoc 07/29/2009 at 05:46 PM

roadrunnerz: Well said and I noticed Rafa was much more poised in this interview than I have seen him. No wiggling or fidgeting or hand/finger biting.

Matt Z: Thanks for letting us know about the great Dodger broadcaster, Vin Scully retiring.

Posted by jb (just say NO to GOATs) 07/29/2009 at 05:47 PM

mhm. i do think the issue w/ rafa's knees is going to stick with him and its more than his tourney schedule that needs adjusting. (He's already playing almost the minimum of the tourneys.) The time he spends on court in practice, as well as his playing doubles needs to be reduced.

he can't practice 2.5, 3 hours AND play a match during a tournament where he's playing singles and doubles already. I mean he can, but not if he wants to play a full season. That will be the trickiest thing for him i think, balancing a scale back of court time with how much he needs to play to be at his peak.

I think both courier and pmac touched on this, that he needs to practice smarter, not harder. sigh. and that's a very tricky balancing act.

but what the hail do any of us know, really! he's the only one that can decide what's best for him and his career. :)

Posted by Rosangel 07/29/2009 at 05:50 PM

"Sometimes it seems like the only two people who aren't especially interested in defining Federer and Nadal through each other are. . .Federer and Nadal. "

Personally, I don't define one versus the other. I've watched Nadal play since he first came on the scene, and it didn't take long to become a fan of what he brings to the game - so often a participant in - and winner of - some of the most entertaining (and, in tennis terms, death-defying) matches I've ever had the privilege to watch. That's enough for me.

Posted by jewell - Campaign for Fedal Disarmament 07/29/2009 at 05:53 PM

Agree, jb. Usually I just use "schedule" as shorthand for "examine everything and make changes where necessary." I think he'll be able to do it though. :) Well, I do today, tomorrow I'll probably be mired in black despair over him again...sigh.

Mm...front page picture...mm. Lovely. :)

Posted by Tim (2009 Year of Red Rogie ) 07/29/2009 at 05:53 PM

Matt, lol who's upset with me? nothing unusual that I can tell, its all good... and no, censoring my opinions is not an option :)

ive said nothing that could remotely be considered problematic, just the usual, not sure what specifically youre talking about matt...

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 07/29/2009 at 05:55 PM

Rosangel We are on the same page.

WORD!!!!!

Posted by Matt Zemek 07/29/2009 at 06:00 PM

Tim:

I've seen this movie before.

It rarely ends well for the teeming TW masses. :-)

Even if you're unaffected.... which you aren't. (Otherwise, you wouldn't feel the need to remind us of how much you get bothered by the perpetuation of certain memes.)

I feel Federbear stalking me and waiting to apply the handcuffs again........ :-)

Posted by roadrunnerz 07/29/2009 at 06:05 PM

Thanks Rafadoc. On a totally unrelated note...I love seeing your posts 'cause I remember you and I posting here (and being welcomed by other TW members) for the first time on the same day. Glad to see you're still around too. Even if...we're not rooting for the same guy. ;)

Posted by rudy3 (proud Rafaelite since 2005) 07/29/2009 at 06:08 PM

Tom Perrota wrote a piece about Rafa today as well. Both he and Pete hit excellent points. I enjoyed them both.

Tom mentioned something that i found interesting...he said...oh shoot, let me just go get it and quote it, hold on...

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 07/29/2009 at 06:15 PM

Rudy3 Yes I just read Toms thoughts on Rafa and his impending retrun to the game.

Well written Tom.I love reading Toms thoughts on the game in general and his thoughts on players.

Posted by Lynne (Rafalite) 07/29/2009 at 06:16 PM

Rosangel: Absolutely agree with you.

Posted by rafadoc 07/29/2009 at 06:18 PM

*wipes tear from eye* Roadrunnerz! I didn't realize that we had our rookie posts on the same day! Around a year ago, no? I want to say September. GLAD you are still around too!

(Sorry for OT)

Posted by Lynne (Rafalite) 07/29/2009 at 06:20 PM

All this talk of Rafa ... is making me miss him so!

Posted by rudy3 (proud Rafaelite since 2005) 07/29/2009 at 06:20 PM

ok, back from espn...

from Tom Perrota's article:
"The good news about Nadal's injury is that it doesn't require surgery; tendinitis is common and treatable. The bad news is, it's likely to be a chronic problem -- and perhaps a bigger problem for Nadal than it would be for most other players. This isn't because of the way Nadal plays; it's because of who Nadal is. No one on tour trains with as much intensity, and no one needs -- or to be more accurate, believes he needs -- more hours on the court to be his best."

I think that is nail on the head material. This goes along with what ohters of you are saying about his training.

As to Pete's assumptions about female responses to The Rafa Effect...guilty of all charges, so go ahead and run me in Officers Ice T and Other Guy who used to be a Comedian...I'll take my casting as the perp on this week's Law & Order SVU.

Posted by Ade 07/29/2009 at 06:26 PM

"Acceptance" Should be Nadal's new game plan.

Impossible to keep up his style of play. Impossible.

He has to accept that he has to change it up if he wants to stay in the game long.

I think he will accept it, change it up, and I wish him luck doing it!

Posted by Mr. X 07/29/2009 at 06:28 PM

I think Nadal should be optimistic about his chances if he has to spend less time on court training, playing doubles, etc. He didnt have all that time on court when he arrived at this year's AO, and he was great in that tournament.

Posted by rafadoc 07/29/2009 at 06:29 PM

Rudy3-thanks for posting the segment from Tom's article. I agree that Rafa has to get confidence from within and from remembering his good results, not feel like he has to beat himself to death to get there. I remember sort of joking about him after he played badly (but still won) against, I believe Gil in Miami. He went on the elipticle (sp?) machine as "punishment" after that match. Not finding that so funny anymore. He really needs to find the balance but who better to help him with that than the Zen Master himself, Tio Toni. That gives me comfort.

Posted by Mr Rick 07/29/2009 at 06:31 PM

"It's easy to picture Rafa as an extra in The Ten Commandments..."

hey, NO WAY are you going to find Rafa wandering aimlessly around in some desert, especially not if there are any golf courses in the near vicinity.

I think of Rafa more like one of the ancient Mediterranean heros like Homer or Ulysses, always good and brave but pushing the envelope a bit, struggling with the sometimes-deadly siren call of sport and competition... whooops, got that ship just a LITTLE too close to the rocks this year I guess...

I for one will be VERY intrigued about the USO this year. It's my least favorite slam, but I never thought I would see the day when Rafa would appear at the USO actually rested and healthy - which might really happen this year fingers crossed...it would be just crazy to see a rockin FEDAL USO final.

Posted by rafadoc 07/29/2009 at 06:31 PM

Mr. X: Great example. Hopefully Rafa can draw on that type of result and, again, find the right balance.

Posted by md 07/29/2009 at 06:33 PM

Nadal reminds me so much of Borg. Overachiever at a young age, too young probably. Virtually unbeatable on clay, their Roland Garros records are amazingly similar. Overplaying while very young, in Borg's case it was North American exhibitions (though later in his career) and WCT (in his early career). Lenard Berglin was very worried about Borg physically, especially after the one nighters on the exhibition circuit. In Nadal's case it has been an almost insane desire to post unbeatable clay court records. Borg in the end did not physically collapse, it was mental, though what effect a badly torn stomach muscle had on his serve towards the end of his career is not known (the injury was originally sustained in 1976 when he changed his service technique in order to win on faster surfaces and never fully went away - it apparently affected him in Wimbledon 1980 quite badly). Towards the end of Borg's career only one player could consistently beat him, ie. McEnroe, though Lendl was beginning to pose a problem and Connors was never less than heroic in his efforts.

With Nadal the injury appears to be more serious, take away his awesome mobility most of the top 20 can beat him, also knees will affect his service also. Once doubt enters the mind of a player he is vulnerable. Federer found this out, though it appears he has stopped trying at lesser events, unless it is a specific warm up for a GS. In my view Nadal bottled Wimbledon, which is more worrying than a physical injury, though with his game physicality is the cornerstone of his success, as he intimidates his opponents through his strength. Anyone who loves tennis wants to see a fully fit Nadal but if he resumes his insane schedule, especially on clay courts he may only last another two seasons. Borg effectively retired at 25, history may be about to repeat itself.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 07/29/2009 at 06:35 PM

A player has to look at all the components when preparing for a tournament,also taining in a tournment.That goes without saying.

Nadal has always trained hard.If anyone has seen his practice seesions at all,its like he is playing in a tournament?.Maybe he and his team will rectify this area and spend less time training especially during a tournament.

Posted by jewell - Campaign for Fedal Disarmament 07/29/2009 at 06:36 PM

I don't know that Rafa can radically change his whole style of play, but I think he's consistently worked on getting cheaper points, eg, with serve, and doing less running. *shrug* It's not like he hasn't thought about or done anything about it.

Anyway combining that with changes to approach and schedule might do the trick, but I do think he'll always have to think about the knees.

and goodnight, all. :)

Posted by jewell - Campaign for Fedal Disarmament 07/29/2009 at 06:40 PM

Meant to say, "hasn't thought about it, or not done anything about it."

and, I guess we'll just have to watch and wait and see what happens when he comes back before we write him for evermore.

*really goes*

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 07/29/2009 at 06:42 PM

Borg in a interview with John Mac at Wimbledon 08 intimated that the reason he Retired from the game at say a early age he didnt have the desire?

I can assure you Rafa has the Desire.

Posted by Lynne (Rafalite) 07/29/2009 at 06:45 PM

Andre Agassi had severe tendonitis in his wrist in 1993 and a lot of people were writing him off.

I realize that tendonitis of both knees is a much different situation but I think with better management of his schedule and practise sessions he will be with us for a lot longer than some people think.

Posted by Corrie 07/29/2009 at 06:51 PM

Interesting to see how how Pete plays up the off court differences between Rog and Rafa - fashion shows v deep sea fishing LOL!

But Jon Wertheim's book has some pages devoted to showing how SIMILAR they are off court, ranging from mutual passion for football, to stable, prosperous middle class families, love of an understated home town and a sister out of the limelight. They're both laid back types too, off court, both absolutely love the beach.

I'm with Jon - I don't buy all this stuff about contrasting he-man Rafa v dandy Roger. They have a very good relationship off court precisely because they do have plenty in common.

Even with clothes, when Rog was younger, closer to Rafa's age before the fashion makeover, he wore just the same sort of clothes as Rafa, and he still does when left to himself.

Only difference, a few biceps and glutes here and there. Shows how stupid Fedal wars are!

Posted by Iris 07/29/2009 at 07:06 PM

Brilliant! Just a Brilliant Article Bodo! the best work i have read from you lately!
Rafa will come back and give them all Hell! I can not wait!
Rafa is Tennis!

Posted by Andrew 07/29/2009 at 07:09 PM

Corrie: I think another couple of things are worth mentioning in how the world nos 1 and 2 approach things on court and off court:

a) both place a lot of emphasis on fair play, and see the other as an exemplar of this virtue

b) both know how hard it is to get to this level and sustain it over a period of years, and each man respects the other for doing this.

Posted by rudy3 (proud Rafaelite since 2005) 07/29/2009 at 07:16 PM

We may have seen the end of Rafa's boyish phase. The interview shown yesterday took place at his spectacular house. His house, not a family house. He drives an Astin Martin (sp), this summer he got a Harley & a SeeDoo water toy. He has made a contract with a Private air service (after the mob scene in the airport following AO). He looked very mature and in control yesterday.

He was asked about his family situation, and he answered it with perspective and candor.

He said he is a "sea of doubts" or as he would say it "a sea of doopts". That seems very honest. (Thanks again Mr.X for the translations)

So while he may no longer be that wide eyed boy...the young man will be just as intriguing to me.

Posted by AmyLu 07/29/2009 at 07:28 PM

*waves hello*

I haven't posted in a while, but I just wanted to tell Pete how much I enjoyed this article. I do have to say, though, that I watched the whole interview (and had it translated by my ever-patient husband), and I was actually really heartened by the whole thing. I came away from the interview relieved because Rafa seems to be in a better place than I thought he would be, and I also agree with rudy3 -- I think this interview showed how he's matured and grown. I didn't find his statements depressing or sobering, but more realistic. And, to me, he seemed much happier than he'd been in any interview since Miami.

Posted by Jenn 07/29/2009 at 07:32 PM

This article made me sad and happy at the same time. Sad that Rafa may not be able to be what he once was. I am clinging to Pete's optimism, but bad knees are historically difficult to overcome. But I was happy reading this very honest and thought provoking assessment and realizing that tennis is about to get Rafa back. I have felt a little bit down about watching matches since RG and I can't wait now for the meat if the hardcourt season.

I will say, though, that even if Rafa never wins another title, I have enjoyed his career and accomplishments more than any other player I have watched except for Agassi. All of those dramatic matches have been such a treat for fans. I just hope there is much more where that came from.

Tennis will truly be a upside -down world if Rafa somehow captures both HC slams with Fed getting the two that Rafa won last year.

Posted by Beckham (Gulbis, Le Sigh!!!) 07/29/2009 at 07:43 PM

And he breaks the Cap'n, c'mon dude, just hold, just hold...DAVAI!!!

Posted by Beckham (Gulbis, Le Sigh!!!) 07/29/2009 at 07:45 PM

ummm, wrong thread...moderators please delete...thanks!!!

Posted by Sherlock 07/29/2009 at 07:45 PM

Great article, Pete.

Dang. I hope those knees can hold up to give us a few more years of great tennis. Can't say I'm overly hopeful at this point.

Sure makes us appreciate what we've got while we've got it.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 07/29/2009 at 07:47 PM

Waves back at Amylu,

Good to see you posting.I agree Rafa seems to be in a better place.

Posted by aussiemarg [Madame President in Comma Rehab for 2009] 07/29/2009 at 07:50 PM

Jenn Good to see you too.I missed you the other day on Decue post.I think Rafa fans are a little happy and sad in some respects.Hoping this ongoing problem will not deter Rafa in the future.So we can all get to witness what he has brought to the tennis world again.

Posted by highpockets 07/29/2009 at 07:55 PM

Chiming in ... loved the article, Pete.

My sentiments echo Amy Lu and Jenn ... hi to both. Rafa didn't seem like he was enjoying much in Miami and beyond. Now he seems rested, happy and full of perspective.

We Rafa fans will be "nervious" for awhile.

Posted by ladyjulia 07/29/2009 at 08:07 PM

I hope Rafa plays injury free for the next couple of years..I definitely see Rafa taking more than 15 slams if the knees cooperate...after all Rafa is only 23.

Sometimes a rest is good, hopefully we will see smart scheduling.

Corrie and Andrew...yeah, they both have so much in common off court...the most endearing moment was Rafa putting his arms around Roger at AO...and its also cute, Roger once visited Rafa after Rafa withdrew from a tournament once...

yes, they both come from very supportive families and both have long term stable relationships...both were not pushed into tennis but were allowed to choose what they wanted to do, both are always respectful on court and off court...

....and they both love tennis.

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