Rafael Nadal was stunningly defeated by Steve Darcis, who defeated him in straight sets in the first round at the 2013 Wimbledon Championships.
It was Nadal's first career Round 1 loss in any Grand Slam event, as noted by ESPN Stats & Info, which also noted that Nadal was the first player to win the French Open and then lose in Round 1 at Wimbledon in the same season since 1997:
Rafael Nadal: loses in 1st round of a Grand Slam for 1st time in career (34-1)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 24, 2013
Rafael Nadal: 1st player to win French Open then lose in 1st round of Wimbledon since 1997 (Gustavo Kuerten)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 24, 2013
During the match, Nadal was seen limping, despite the fact that he told reporters he was healthier this year going into the tournament than he was last year, as noted by Damien Cox of the Toronto Star:
Nadal said he was healthy coming in, healthier than last year. But by third set he was limping around, walking like an old man out there.— Damien Cox (@DamoSpin) June 24, 2013
After the match, when asked about his knee, Nadal refused to speak about it, opting instead to congratulate Darcis on a match well played, as reported by BBC Sport:
Nadal: "I don't want to talk about my knee. Steve Darcis played a fantastic match. He deserved it. If I talk about my knee, it's an excuse."— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) June 24, 2013
It was a classy move by a true professional, but the truth of the matter is that Nadal's balky left knee undoubtedly reared its ugly head during his first-round match against Darcis.
When playing on clay surfaces, knees hold up much better than they does on hard and grass courts. The clay allows players to slide, while harder surfaces don't offer any give, thus putting significantly more pressure on joints—especially knees.
Furthermore, as Ben Rothenberger of the New York Times pointed out after Nadal's loss, his two-handed backhand puts tremendous pressure on his knee:
If not properly addressed, the patellar tendinitis on his left side could turn out to be a long-term issue for Nadal.
Much like Tiger Woods, who had to alter his swing in order to save his knees according to GolfChannel.com, Nadal may be in a position where he needs to completely alter the way he plays in order to extend his career.
Rothenberger is of the opinion that he'll only play in three more tournaments this year after watching him play on Monday:
I'll say it now: I'd be surprised if Nadal played more than three more tournaments this year. #Wimbledon— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 24, 2013
Should Rothenberger's prediction come true, it would signal the second year in a row that Nadal's season would be cut well short due to his knee injury.
Rafael Nadal's 1st-round loss proved...
Should Nadal continue to play without making changes to his swing, he could potentially finish his career as a part-time player on the ATP Tour—participating primarily in tournaments that feature clay surfaces.
For a player of Nadal's caliber, this would be a tragedy.
At the age of 27, and with good health, it's not a stretch to believe that Nadal could become the winningest player of all time in Grand Slam events. Unfortunately, if he can only play for a few months a year, the likelihood of Nadal reaching such heights is slim.
For now, it's clear that Nadal's short-term health is in question. Time will tell if it becomes a long-term problem.
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