When Rafael Nadal captured the Brazil Open on Sunday, it marked his first singles title since winning his seventh French Open in June.
So, he's going to get back to regularly winning Grand Slam singles titles, right?
Well, not exactly.
It's been a long road for the 11-time Grand Slam singles champion, who had to withdraw from the 2012 London Olympics due to tendinitis in his knee. He returned to the court last week in Chile, but was shocked in the final by world No. 43 Horacio Zeballos.
Fortunately for the Spaniard, his knee was feeling good on Sunday. The same couldn't be said after the semifinals against Martin Alund.
Nadal said after the encouraging win, via ESPN: "When the knee is feeling better like today I feel like that I can do more of the things that I used to do my entire life. If the pain is bearable like it was today, then it's fine."
Note the word "bearable." What everybody needs to understand is that we may never see vintage Nadal again. He may only be 26 years old, but he may as well be in his early 30s given the aggressive, physical style of tennis he's made his trademark throughout the years.
Beating David Nalbandian is one thing, but right now it's hard to see Nadal competing with some of the top players in the world such as Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray. What makes the effects of his injury so pronounced is the fact that he doesn't have an effortless, serve-based game like Federer does. He's always had to work for his points, which takes a toll on the body.
For example, in 2011—Nadal's last full season—he registered 267 aces in 78 matches (ranked 36th on the ATP Tour, via ATPWorldTour.com). Federer posted 504 aces in 73 matches (ranked 10th). It's part of the reason why the Swiss great continues to perform at a high level and never seems to give in to Father Time, while Nadal is struggling at a relatively young age.
Nadal has been rather vocal about his frustration with the ATP Tour, claiming it is not concerned with players' health and an increase in hard-court events will only lead to more injuries and shortened careers.
He told the Associated Press last week, via the Los Angeles Times:
The ATP has to start thinking about ways to lengthen the players' careers. I can't imagine football players playing on cement, I can't imagine any other sport involving aggressive movements such as tennis being played on such aggressive surfaces such as ours. We are the only sport in the world making this mistake, and it won't change.
Nadal does have a valid point, but there's also a reason why he appears to be complaining more than other players on tour. His game in particular almost requires playing on clay or grass or he won't last very long. He's not seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, even after his win over Nalbandian on Sunday, because if he continues playing on hard courts, he's only going to decline steadily.
Can Nadal win another Grand Slam singles title? Of course he can. The great ones find a way to win, and I wouldn't bet against him adding another trophy to his collection.
But to expect Nadal to return to vintage form is expecting too much. Frankly, it's unfair to Nadal himself.
The win at the Brazil Open was encouraging, but don't all of a sudden think the Spaniard's going to rattle off Grand Slam singles titles moving forward, especially with Djokovic, Federer and Murray in his way.
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