Rafael Nadal: Is a Warm-Up Tournament Needed Before the Australian Open?
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The 11-time Grand Slam champion isn't satisfying inquiring minds regarding his recovery process, only saying:
"With a week of training, no miracles or timetables, I am working to return to being the same as I was before the injury and am sure that we are going to make it."
The 26-year-old Rafa is cool, calm and collected in his road back to the top because he has been through it before.
In 2004, he returned from that horrendous foot injury that many were quick to say would be the nail in the coffin to his promising career.
Rafa was compelled to remind doubters of this.
"I came back the same or better, and my goal is to do it again this time," Nadal added.
I liken the Spaniard's imminent return to that of driving a brand new car. Experts say that the first few hundred miles of a new engine is delicate and vulnerable to damage if it hasn't sustained a little wear-and-tear first.
Under that theory, Nadal would be smart to register some mileage on those knees before he steps onto Rod Laver Arena.
He appears to agree, as he is confirmed to play an exhibition match at the 2012 Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi, December 27-29.
48 hours later, Rafa will see how he measures up against the world's best at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open from December 31-January 6.
Beginning January 14, the Australian Open will serve as the first big stage for Rafa to inflict some "remember me?" moments, and his foresight to play those tune-up matches should pay off.
So, are the warm-up tournaments needed before the Australian Open?
Nadal and his team think so.
Practicing has been an encouraging step forward, but Abu Dhabi and Doha will prepare him the best for Melbourne.
All this anticipation of Nadal's 2013 return has been stirring up the same feelings I had in 1995 when Michael Jordan announced that he was coming out of retirement with his infamous quote, "I'm back!"
I know Rafa isn't coming out of retirement, but indulge me with my train of thought for a second.
In his airness' first game back, or warm-up game if you will, after more than a year away, Jordan only managed 19 points in 43 minutes on 7-of-28 shooting.
10 days following that, MJ dropped 55 points, or what's more commonly known as the "double-nickel game," against the New York Knicks on "basketball's biggest stage"—Madison Square Garden.
Does Rafael Nadal need these warm-up tournaments?
I'm not trying to draw any parallels between basketball and tennis, but Jordan's return to competition is synonymous with Nadal's impending return.
Rafa may be rusty in his first couple go-arounds back, but he's smart to allow himself an adjustment period before he takes the tennis world's first biggest stage of the new year.
Then, it will come as no shock when Rafa has his "double-nickel game" moment down under and sustains it late into the second week of the Australian Open.
Abu Dhabi and Doha will be the equivalent of Rafa driving his new car nice and easy and making sure everything works right and feels right.
By the time the Aussie Open rolls around, Nadal will be pushing that new car to the limits as if he was flying on the Autobahn.
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