Men's Tennis

Australian Open 2013: Why Rafael Nadal's Withdrawal Was the Right Call

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 10:  Rafael Nadal of Spain  plays a backhand during the men's singles final against Novak Djokovic of Serbia on day 15 of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 10, 2012 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Benjamin J. BlockCorrespondent IIJanuary 5, 2013

On December 28, 2012, and 18 days before the 2013 Australian Open, Rafael Nadal withdrew from the major in Melbourne citing a stomach bug, and while the unpopular decision perpetuated rumors surrounding the uncertainty of his career, it was the right call for two reasons.    

First, let's go back and recap all of the highs and lows of Rafa's turbulent 2012.

He began the year by making the finals in the Australian Open where he lost in five sets to Novak Djokovic.

Nadal then went on to beat Djoker at Roland Garros for his record-breaking seventh French Open title.

On June 28, 2012, the 26-year-old Spaniard suffered an inexplicable second-round loss at Wimbledon to Lukas Rosol. Following the five-set loss to Rosol, Rafa issued the following statement. (via David Mercer of BBC Sport)

I played a great fourth set. He came back [after the delay to close the roof] and played unbelievable in the fifth.

The only thing I can do is go back home and rest, and I need and deserve it.

I'm very, very disappointed [but] it's not a tragedy, it's only a tennis match.

Nadal did go home and rest, forgoing the U.S. Open, and he hasn't played competitively since.

So why on earth would it be the right call to extend his absence and pull out of the Australian Open?

 

The Choice to Come Back May Not Have Been Rafa's Call to Make

I'm not in the business of fostering conspiracies—that is up to you, the reader—but it's been hard to ignore the widespread speculation that the Spaniard's six-month vacancy has been tied to a possible doping punishment.

These allegations were so overwhelming among tennis fans that Nadal's media manager Benito Barbadillo addressed them in a live chat on the UbiTennis site.   

Barbadillo strongly came to Nadal's defense, ultimately hoping that there be more transparency and openness on player testing.

Barbadillo makes a good point, but in the interim, he's been busy dispelling the rumors that his client is quietly serving a ban.

 

Rust Must Have Been a Factor—Nadal Just Doesn't Casually Miss Majors

As anxious as Nadal's peers and fans were to see the 26-year-old compete at the Australian Open, the reasons for delaying his return make a lot of sense.

Via ESPN:

My knee is much better and the rehabilitation process has gone well as predicted by the doctors. But this virus didn't allow me to practice this past week, and therefore I am sorry to announce that I will not play in Doha and the Australian Open.

Rafa clearly isn't ready to play seven best-of-five matches yet, and athlete's like him won't enter a tournament unless they feel like they have a great chance to win. 

I always said that my return to competition will be when I am in the right conditions to play. And after all this time away from the courts, I'd rather not accelerate the comeback and prefer to do things well.

Ultimately, the Spaniard has chosen rest over surgery for his torn patella tendon in that left knee, a la James Blake a few years ago.

In Blake's case, resting the knee didn't work out in his favor and he subsequently had to have the surgery—losing a year of his career.

Everyone reacts to pain differently, but it will be interesting to see if Nadal's decision to rest will pay off.

Regardless, his awaited return to tennis will captivate the sports world.

 

 

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