Rafael Nadal, the tennis king of idiosyncrasies, might be adding another ritual to his routine: whining.
In case you haven't heard, Nadal hated the tennis balls used at the China Open in Beijing. He thinks those things are freaking dangerous.
He told The Associated Press (via Tennis.com), "This week we are playing with one ball. Next week we are playing with a different ball. That's dangerous for the shoulder, dangerous for the elbow."
Oh, Rafa, Rafa, Rafa. What now?
Sometimes it seems the Spaniard is always complaining about something.
Nadal certainly wasn't the only player to raise questions about the balls. Andy Murray complained too. It's just that Nadal's beef with the balls lands on a growing list of grievances.
You see, this week, it was the balls. Every year he grumbles about the number of hard-court tournaments and the impact it has on his knees.
In November 2013, Nadal complained about the ATP finals being played on indoor hard courts. He told Tennis.com, “During these nine years the Masters Cup was on indoor, a surface that was not the best for me ... I understand, but I think this is unfair.”
You think Roger Federer wishes a few French Opens could be played on grass? But every year, the same thing...clay. That's just wrong.
Oh, Rafa, Rafa, Rafa.
Sometimes he acts like the world is against him. Like last year, at the French Open. That's when he slammed the French for their scheduling and called it unfair, according to the AP (h/t tuscon.com).
Two years ago, he was unhappy about the blue clay in Madrid. He and Novak Djokovic threatened to skip the tournament the next year if the blue clay came back. It didn't.
There’s nothing wrong with a professional athlete speaking his mind. However, instead of appearing outspoken, Nadal comes across as a whiner.
He avoids bombastic outbursts like those from Richard Sherman. Yet, there's something about the way in which Nadal states his case. It rubs folks the wrong way.
Perhaps it’s the tone of his voice, which sometimes barely rises above a mumble? Maybe it’s his shoulder-shrugging demeanor in press conference?
Whatever it is, it’s beginning to grate. Like fingernails across a chalk board, Nadal’s constant complaining irks.
It's unfortunate too because otherwise, Nadal is considered humble. He's gracious in defeat and has been an excellent ambassador for the sport. Just this week, he carried roses out to Li Na at her retirement celebration in Beijing. He was one of the few ATP players to make an appearance.
But oh Rafa, Rafa, Rafa. Complaining about the balls?
What used to be mere fodder for Rafa haters has spilled over into editorials and tweets. A recent headline by USA Today asked: “Did Rafa Nadal’s whining set him up for Beijing Open collapse?”
After Nadal went on and on about the experimental blue clay in Madrid, veteran tennis writer Peter Bodo devoted an entire column for Tennis Magazine to questioning Nadal's persistent whining. Bodo wrote (via NBC Sports):
Most of you are familiar with his dissatisfactions: The engorged calendar, the ranking system (he lobbied to have it transformed into one that was based on 24 months or results, rather than 12), his seemingly never quite right knees, the blue clay. . . Rafa isn't the only player to complain about such things, but none of his peers at the top of the game seems to have quite as many issues, or appear to take them so personally (to the point where he quit the ATP player council, seemingly because his fellow pros just didn't understand).
Whether or not the whiner label is justified, the fact that it's coming up more often speaks to the prevalence of the perception.
Nadal's talent and accomplishments have already earned him a future spot in the Hall of Fame and probably a few pages in the record books. That's why the whining seems beneath him.
Oh Rafa, Rafa, Rafa. It's OK to remain conscientious and opinionated. Just pick your battles better, or else earn a new nickname: "Rafaree."