"It's a marathon, not a sprint" is a quote that can be used for a wide variety of situations and events in life.
Rafael Nadal is learning this life lesson now as he sits at home without the possibility of defending his Wimbledon crown.
What Rafa is learning is that being number one does not mean you have to play in every tournament on the schedule, and that overtaxing your body is a surefire way of derailing both your career in the short- and long-term as well.
Having just turned 23 less than a month ago, Rafa is still very young and this year has been a test.
He won Australia which set his year off nicely, but then went on to play several other hard court tournaments, Davis Cup, and then his clay court schedule was so ridiculous that by the time he reached Roland Garros, it was apparent that he was not moving as well on the court as he normally does.
Roger Federer, on the other hand, has been a prime example of a player who makes sure to schedule according to the slams first, and everything else second.
He skips events that he feels are a detriment to his ability to win the most hallowed trophies in the sport, rather than entering tournaments because you want to rack up the hardware.
Legends of longevity like Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi are also excellent examples of players who won slams over a long period of time. Sampras won first at 19 and the last at 31 showing that picking your battles only serves your career better in the long run.
In the last few years, Rafa's knee problems have become a concern and we have seen him pull out of a couple of slams as well as other prestigious events after he has played too much tennis with little break.
It is apparent that Rafa needs to both reduce his practice time on off days which are almost legendary in their length (five-seven hours at times) to maybe two or two-and-a-half hours. He needs to work with his uncle in his downtime now and figure out his schedule not only for the rest of this season, but for next year as well.
If he cuts down on his clay court schedule by a couple of events, and cuts out a couple of hard court tournaments as well, we may be looking at a player who is not only strong early in the tennis season next year, but one who may be in excellent shape by seasons end.
What Rafa has learned this year is that being a long-term champion means being a steady winner, not someone who gobbles up a bunch of slams and titles but who runs himself down so much that it catches up in the end.
Rafa is the man who is unbelievably fast and has sprinted through the race, but now is tired. While gasping for breath, the man who has been running steady has just passed him.
Let's hope that this year serves to show Rafa what he needs to do in order to be the number one champion. I feel at some point that Rafa will indeed be number one again, if Federer happens to win Wimbledon again this year and take it back.
Maybe he should call Andre, or Lendl and get some advice. All I know—and I'm sure Rafa knows it, too—is that if he wants to go down in the pantheon of all-time greats and get to that double-digit slam plateau, he must change how he does things.
So I say, get some rest. Plan for the future. Adjust how you train, and let's see a U.S. Open victory and end the year on as positive a note as you did at the beginning of the year.
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