Those in attendance for Rafael Nadal's acceptance of the Spanish Vanity Fair's "Man of the Year" award on Monday got a glimpse into how frustrating injury recoveries can be for elite athletes.
The world's fourth-ranked player, who has been out of action since his second-round loss at Wimbledon, was being honored by the magazine for his on-court work and his involvement with the Rafa Nadal Foundation.
When asked about his recovery from injury and what that means going forward, Nadal seemed optimistic about his tennis playing future. Nevertheless, it looks like we won't be seeing the Spanish star back on the court until he is 100 percent.
Via the Herald Sun:
I don't know how long I will keep playing tennis. I'll be 31 in five years and taking into account the fact that I started at 16 ... Perhaps stopping now will help extend my career a little bit more. Until I had the problems with the knee again, the final at Roland Garros, had been one of the best seasons of my life. I felt able to win any competition. Complicated times came later.
Considering the Slam season is over and the Davis Cup final is, quite frankly, unimportant in Nadal's long-term career arc, it's completely understandable to "stop" now. He is already reportedly out into November (via ESPN) with his latest setback, a torn patella tendon.
If Nadal is committed to coming back at his optimum potential, he won't touch a racket again until he's fully healed.
Those who have followed the 26-year-old's career arc know that this isn't his first foray with knee injuries.
Nadal missed time in 2006, 2008 and 2009 before this season with chronic knee problems. And considering the Spaniard's storied issues with foot injuries, which began in 2005, one cannot help but think these two problems are related to one another.
For a tennis player, there is absolutely nothing worse than a leg injury. Especially for Nadal, whose amazing defensive skills are predicated on his athleticism, chronic leg injuries could be the early death knell for his career.
With the career Grand Slam complete and 11 major championships in his trophy case, Nadal has nothing left to prove on the tennis court. He could theoretically walk away today unquestioned as one of the 10 greatest players in the sport's history, and perhaps the greatest clay-court star of all-time.
However, we all know that won't happen. Nadal has too many good years left, too much left in the tank, to end his career now. Roger Federer is on the wrong side of 30 and neither Novak Djokovic nor Andy Murray seems ready to take on his role as the one-man face of the sport.
The world No. 1 ranking is there for the taking, and Nadal could be the man for the job whenever he gets healthy. Key to that, however, is not rushing his comeback.
If that means missing the Australian Open in January, so be it. For a player with Nadal's injury history, that's a small price to pay for his long-term health.
Monday, the Spanish star seemed ready to focus on the long-term over the short-term. Whether he continues that commitment could be the key to the rest of his career.