An 11-time Grand Slam champion and an Olympic gold medalist, Rafael Nadal has nothing left to prove in tennis other than that he can revive his career at age 26 and storm back to No. 1 in the world.
To do so will require Nadal to play elite-level tennis at hard-court tournaments, the surface most damaging to his body, specifically his aching knees. That's why Nadal, at an obvious crossroads in his career, must limit his hard-court play in 2013 and beyond in order to prolong one of history's great careers.
Rafa's decision to make his comeback on clay this February certainly adds to the speculation that he will seek out clay-court tournaments until he finds himself at 100 percent.
Nadal is definitely no stranger to clay. He grew up playing on it and has won seven of his 11 major titles on the red clay at Roland Garros.
He's won a remarkable 93 percent of his clay-court matches over the course of his career.
Even grass, which plays faster than hard and clay surfaces, is a solid option for Nadal. He's had success at Wimbledon over the past decade and, by playing on grass, would be able to compete against the world's best on another unique surface without causing so much destruction to his body.
Nadal limiting his hard-court exposure is...
That's not to say that Nadal should never step foot on a hard tennis court ever again. But he must limit himself.
Sometimes a match can last three or four hours, and a tournament can consist of four or five matches. The constant pounding on the hard court can take a toll on even the most well-oiled athletes.
No one can blame Rafa for wanting to reconquer men's tennis and challenge Roger Federer's record Grand Slam count. But there's no guarantee he returns to the top, and there's a very real risk that he's dealt a career-ending blow at some point along the way.
There's no reason that the king of clay should be confined to his favorite surface for the rest of his career, but to approach tennis with the same never-say-die mentality, going for broke on hard courts year-round, would be foolish at this delicate point in Nadal's career.
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