Rafael Nadal: Rafa's Overdue Return Means Excitement for Tennis in 2013

Justin Onslow@@JustinOnslowNFLContributor IIJanuary 16, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 28:  Rafael Nadal of Spain reacts during his Gentlemen's Singles second round match against Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic on day four of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 28, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Clive Rose/Getty Images

For seven months, tennis has been without one of the best players on the planet. The tennis world will have to wait just a bit longer for his return.

Rafael Nadal suffered from tendon damage in his knee that left him off the court for more than half a year after Wimbledon. He was expected to return in late December for an exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi, but he ran into a setback.

Nadal became ill with a stomach virus and missed the exhibition tournament that would have seen him compete in a tournament field with the likes of Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. That same stomach virus is now keeping Nadal from participating in the Australian Open.

The Australian Open was supposed to feature the big four of tennis—Nadal, Djokovic, Murray and Roger Federer—and start 2013 with some excitement on the court. While the tournament still features the best of the best, it’s missing one piece.

The @australianopen already underway. I miss being in # Melbourne! Hope you enjoy the tournament!

— Rafa Nadal (@RafaelNadal) January 14, 2013

Nadal not only creates excitement for the sport, but he also brings balance to the top of the rankings and would have evened out an Australian Open field that could see Djokovic waltz into the finals with little resistance on his side of the bracket.

Without Nadal’s presence, the “big four” seems a little lopsided.

He’s set to return at the Brazil Open next month—hopefully this time for real—and the tennis world will once again be graced with the presence of a young superstar and some terrific rivalries.

The rivalry between Nadal and the world’s next three best players is significant, and it brings a sense of anticipation for Nadal’s return. He is 18-10 against Federer, 19-14 against Djokovic and 13-5 against Murray in his career, and the three represent the toughest competition he will continue to face in 2013.

Nadal’s return will also represent an obstacle for the rest of the tennis world to overcome—an obstacle that hasn’t been present in men’s tennis for more than seven months. Nadal should be healthy and as dominant as ever.

Given the length of Nadal’s layoff, his knee should be well-rested for his return at the Brazil Open on Feb. 11, and hopefully he will be fully over his stomach illness.

The tennis world doesn’t need another setback, and the sport doesn’t need a “big three.” Tennis needs Nadal back in the fold sooner rather than later.