Originally published in Bloomberg View
Rafael Nadal is back in the U.S. Open finals tonight, which can mean only one thing: He's on drugs!
Steroid hysteria may be new to tennis, but it's been swirling around the Spaniard for years. Many years. There are those bulging biceps. (Or bicep, anyway.) There's the crazy power, speed and stamina. There's also the guilt by association: A couple of years ago, in a memorable feat of journalistic irresponsibility, Le Monde published an op-ed by Yannick Noah that basically accused all Spanish athletes—not just tennis players, but soccer players, basketball players, cyclists—of doping. ("They are running faster than us, are much more stronger and only leave us the bread crumbs," wrote Noah. "It's simple, we look like dwarves.")
Most of all, there's the too-good-to-be-true story of Nadal's comeback from injury. After losing in the second round at Wimbledon in 2012 to a competitor ranked 100th in the world, Nadal disappeared from the game to nurse the bum left knee that had been bothering him for years. At the time, it wasn't clear if Nadal was ever coming back. He returned seven months later, reaching the finals of the first tournament he played, the Chile Open. Then he absolutely caught fire, winning six of the next seven tournaments he entered, before notching his eighth French Open.
Surely, no mere mortal could have accomplished this without pharmaceutical aid. In today's game, with its grinding rallies and marathon matches? Ha!
For what it's worth, Nadal has never failed a drug test. Is this evidence of his innocence, or of the inadequacy of tennis's testing regime?
How about Option Number 3: Who cares? If there's a synthetic hormone out there that can soothe Nadal's chronically tender patellar tendon and offset some of the pressure the torque of his violent two-handed backhand puts on his left knee—well, then, there's a scientist out there who deserves our thanks and congratulation.
Who wouldn't want to see another 10 years "artificially" added to Nadal's career? For that matter, is there a safe drug out there that can help slow the aging process for Roger Federer, who just turned 32 but whose days on the court now seem numbered?
Let the golden era of men's tennis continue!
Jonathan Mahler is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.
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