Rafael Nadal Injury: Could It End Up Costing Him the No. 1 Ranking?

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Rafael Nadal Injury: Could It End Up Costing Him the No. 1 Ranking?
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A brief look at rankings the men and women's rankings will tell you the following: The women are having a race with three women capable of taking the top spot, whereas Rafael Nadal has a plus-4,000 points cushion to his pursuers in the men's field. 

The casual observer will think that his ranking is secure, safe and sound. 

Nevertheless, Nadal has a lead very similar to the one he enjoys now less than two years ago, a lead which he lost when he pulled out of Wimbledon. 

Following the Australian Open loss to David Ferrer, the great Spanish warrior has once again been sidelined with injury. He returns to play the coming weekend when Spain and Belgium square off in the Davis Cup. 

Should his injury concern his fans and make his opponents cherish their chances?

Not in and of itself. The tearing of a leg muscle which he got in the first set against Ferrer didn't put Rafa out of training practice for more than 10 days. As he has complained that his offseason break was only three or four days, a 10-day lay off might in fact be exactly what he needed.

No match play in February can prove to be a good thing for the world's No. 1. He's been training for three weeks now and should be ready for both the Davis Cup and the ensuing American hard-court Masters.

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If the injury should be a worry to his fans, it would be for the potential loss of confidence that Nadal may have suffered from it. It is no secret that Rafa plays better when he's on a tear.

All players do, to some extent, but few does it to the same extent as Rafa. His meager performances in the second half of 2009—no wins, no finals and him losing six straight sets at the WTF—point to a player who needs time to come back from injury and regain the trust in his body and physical abilities.

The fact that Rafa's play and superiority on a tennis court starts with him being faster, stronger and more endurant than his opponent makes it obvious why he needs to be fully fit in order to be that dominant player on the court that he's capable of being.

So, are there any similarities between his recent injury and the ones he struggled with in 2009?

Hardly.

For one, this one has only been 10 days. It's a muscle, not his knees, and he should be fine.

Secondly, this time he didn't have any scheduled tournaments to pull out from. In 2009, he pulled out of Wimbledon. Here, he didn't even need to pull out from a Masters. Finally, in 2009, his injury came at the end of the clay season. This time, it comes just prior to it.

In other words, even if his confidence should have taken a slight hit, his beloved clay is just around the corner to restore it.

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First, though, he has one Davis Cup and two relatively slow hard-court Masters to play.

For his fans, this particular injury should be of no concern to his performances in these matches. Could it end up costing him the ranking? No, but other injuries could. And what the injury does remind us of is that Rafael Nadal is vulnerable to injuries.

With Roger Federer determined to regain the top spot and perhaps more importantly with Novak Djokovic in the form of his life and brimming with confidence, the Spaniard can't afford to be sidelined for long.

Come American hard court, European clay and Wimbledon, and the Spaniard has 7,765 points to defend, whereas Djokovic has 2,485 and Federer only has 1,705 points to defend.

It is at the very least debatable whether Djokovic can carry his form into the clay season and be the one thing Nadal hasn't had in all his years on the tour: a consistent clay rival.

Both Federer and Djokovic are likely to improve on their meager 2010 clay and American hard-court campaigns.

But beat Nadal? And take his ranking? It seems to require a Djokovic in the form we're seeing now and successfully transferring it to clay—or an injured Nadal.    

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