It's finally happened—the announcement we have been waiting to hear for the last several years.
It took longer than most thought it would, but finally Rafael Nadal and his uncle (and coach) Toni Nadal have decided to streamline their tennis schedule.
It took years of denial, and last year's terrible physical injuries, for Nadal to realize that denying there is a problem—and fighting through the pain—does not equal long-term success.
This approach means less tennis overall throughout the season, but a healthier Nadal both physically and mentally. Only Nadal and his team fully know the impact that weekly tennis has on his body. They know that playing exhibition matches and non-mandatory ATP events only works against them in the long run. This move is in everyone's best interest.
Last year proved to be the template of what not to do.
Nadal was No. 1 overall. He had just won the Australian Open and Indian Wells, but during the clay court season you started to see that there was just something off. He was winning but as the season progressed it became more and more evident that he was in pain of some sort. Instead of pulling out of a couple of events, Nadal continued to play and won, but at the cost of Roland Garros and Wimbledon, and to a lesser extent the U.S. Open.
So now it's most likely that everything will revolve around the slams, which is smart. Roger Federer has been doing it over the last few years—taking significant time off to heal and prepare for what are really the only four titles that truly matter every year in your career.
While other titles are certainly nice, I think we all know that the barometer that measures 90 percent of what people remember about you when you are done playing is the number of Grand Slam titles that sit beside your name.
Quick! How many titles did Pete Sampras win in his career? Chances are if you get it right you are either the biggest Sampras fan in the world, or you are Googling it as you read this article, because slams are what people truly remember.
Even though Nadal is only 23 (almost 24) and is still very young, he probably only has maybe four or five more years of truly great tennis left in him before the injuries and wear force him into either a long spiral out of the game or an early retirement.
The pull out of Barcelona last week, and admitting that Rafa's schedule needs some pruning, indicates that Nadal and his team know it too. The best way to maximize both his chance at winning slams and his ultimate place in the history of the game will be to make sure that he is as healthy as possible come February, May, June, and September each year.