Rafael Nadal: What Rafa Must Do to Stay Healthy in 2013

Thomas ConroyCorrespondent IJanuary 18, 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

The tennis world is receiving mixed signals from Rafael Nadal’s camp on his return to the sport. Prior to the start of the Australian Open Nadal officially withdrew from the men’s draw due to a stomach virus.

His entourage wanted to emphasize that the illness and not left knee tendinitis, which sidelined him last summer, is the sole reason for Nadal missing the first Grand Slam event of the tennis season. By all accounts the rehabilitation has gone smoothly, but tennis fans might have to come to the realization that Nadal’s knees aren’t stable enough to take the constant pounding from playing on a hard surface.

To stay healthy in 2013 Nadal will have to make changes to his game. All great athletes have difficulty making the necessary adjustments, as their psyche gets in the way. Changing your approach on the tennis court doesn’t guarantee your knees won’t fail in competition. The biggest fear is finding out you no longer have the talent to remain on top of your sport.

Unfortunately, Nadal doesn’t play with a low motor on the tennis court, as every swing generates unbelievable force. This reckless style of play is designed to have your body give out at a young age. The amount of torque on his violent backhand shots has taken its toll on Nadal’s knees and back. It’s impressive how long he has stayed on top of the tour.

Nadal must re-learn how to hit the ball better with a more balanced stance, allowing him to place a shot anywhere on the court. He must also learn to be light on his feet to save the knees from the constant pounding of his sport. Nadal must stop hitting off-balanced shots and glide to the ball more like Roger Federer.

My guess is that Nadal skipped the Australian Open because he didn’t want to risk the chance of re-injuring himself on the hard surface and miss the entire season. It’s smart for him to begin his season on the clay, a surface where Nadal had his greatest success.

Nadal must protect his body, as it’s smarter to miss certain tournament events now and save his body for the Grand Slams later in the season.

Nadal has the talent and physicality to dominate once again on the tour.

He recovered from injury in 2009 to roar back and win three Grand Slam (the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open) titles the following year. Nadal is still one of the best tennis players in the world, as evidenced by his career record against the other top (Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray) players.

But, the longer you stay away, the harder it is to get back on top.