Men's tennis superstar Rafael Nadal plays with reckless abandon. It's part of the genius that has made him a 14-time Grand Slam tournament champion, but Nadal's all-out style has also taken a toll on his body over the years.
Ahead of the 2014 U.S. Open, a right wrist injury threatens to hold Nadal out of competition. It is vital that Nadal carefully considers how the latest ailment might impact his long-term health. After missing the past two events, Nadal has postponed his decision to enter the season's final major, per B1PR (h/t SI.com's Courtney Nguyen):
That would presumably increase the odds that Nadal will play.
Had he felt healthy enough to declare himself ready to compete, though, Nadal likely would have done so. That he hasn't suggests this is a difficult decision. By not being fully fit, trying to grind it out, the danger is that Nadal is bounced early while also putting himself at risk moving forward.
If he wasn't so physical on the court and didn't play every point as if it were his last, perhaps it would be easier for Nadal to take the court.
The good news is this health issue doesn't have to do with Nadal's knees, which absorb much of the wear and tear his brand of tennis generates. Also aiding Nadal's chances to compete at Flushing Meadows is the wrist in question isn't the one that generates the unparalleled topspin in his forehand.
But opponents could take advantage of Nadal on the backhand side if his wrist is truly bothersome. If his right wrist is compromised to even a moderately detrimental level, it will necessitate a change in tactics, including an added emphasis on footwork, where Nadal will have to run around and scramble to get to his forehand more often than usual.
Judging by Nadal's own testimony from this last week, he is struggling with that shot to say the least, per Indo-Asian News Service, via NDTV Sports:
After the tests, I will know if I have improved or whether I have to wait a bit more. If the tests show I have improved, then I will have to try to see how much it hurts when I try and hit backhands. [...] If I have the chance to compete, then obviously I am going to make an effort, but we have to realise that we only have a week and a half and that does not leave a lot of time and I can't play if I can't hit a backhand.
The two-handed backhand is such a weapon since Nadal is a natural right-hander, but learned tennis with his left as his dominant hand. Losing power on those groundstrokes will force Nadal into tougher rallies from point to point.
Absent a dominant serve to bail him out, the circumstances would be even harder for Nadal to deal with.
Now that Novak Djokovic has the No. 1 ranking after winning Wimbledon, there is some incentive for Nadal to get back out there and try to reclaim his status as the top player. Nadal is also the defending U.S. Open champion, and other stars such as Roger Federer and Andy Murray have suffered recent losses, per ESPN Stats & Info:
To be fair, Federer did just win the Western & Southern Open, though it came against David Ferrer, who has not had as much success as Nadal has against his most prolific contemporaries, per Tennis View Magazine's Chris Skelton:
"The King of Clay" is not well suited for the hardcourt surface as other tennis terrains—another demerit in his potential bid to play the U.S. Open.
Not being able to slide into shots puts more stress on the knees, leaving Nadal susceptible to further harm there. Being unable to execute his footwork properly, not getting enough pace on his backhand and the brutal taxing Nadal's knees take on hard courts all word against him.
So while this right wrist has little to do with the injury concerns Nadal has endured and overcome in the past, it could force him to adjust his strategy in an unhealthy way.
If defending his title comes at the cost of either being eliminated early at the U.S. Open, causing more bodily harm or both, then Nadal would be better off playing it safe. In his pursuit of the all-time Grand Slam titles record, held by Federer with 17, Nadal must have that in the back of his mind. At age 28, he should have plenty more quality tennis to play and a chance to eclipse Federer's mark, since King Roger is at a later stage in his career.
As is always the case with Nadal, of course, that means he must be healthy enough to perform to his potential. This U.S. Open presents a hazardous crossroads Nadal must tread with caution before the tread on his own tires becomes too much to bear.