Subtract Rafael Nadal from any given tennis tournament, and boom—the participants collectively give 10,000 percent less of a shit about winning. He treasures every point of every match in every tournament. The man who won 16 Slams, including two last year, reportedly cried for two hours straight after pulling out of the Mexico Open, a third-tier event at Acapulco this week.
Nadal felt a “sharp pain” in his final training session before the tournament began, and his medical team advised him not to play through it. But maybe Rafa’s tears stemmed from a broader understanding that the hip injury that sent him limping out of Australian Open quarterfinal might end up derailing the start of his season: That was his fifth straight tournament from which he’d withdrawn.
Today the streak continued, as Nadal announced he would sit out the two biggest events of the early hardcourt season, Indian Wells and Miami:
Hi everyone. Unfortunately, the injury I suffered in Acapulco before starting the tournament is in the same area as the one suffered in Melbourne. I won’t be able to play in Miami or Indian Wells as I need to recover. It was very painful to retire from Acapulco and it’s very hard as well to not play in the USA. I will miss you and I will do everything that’s possible to be back there in 2019. Thank you
Nadal made strong runs at both tournaments in 2017, reaching the fourth-round at Indian Wells and the final at Miami, losing to Roger Federer in both instances. As of now, he might want to recover and maximize his chances of returning healthy to his favorite surface, clay, which he graced last year with an unholy 17-1 tear, hauling in four titles including his 10th career French Open.
Rafa is a churning, indefatigable topspin machine—and his very own taskmaster. He’s got the competitive hunger of Michael Jordan, minus the sociopathy. He demands so much from himself. Maybe Rafa, at 31, after so many cycles of injuries, is at a juncture in his career where he needs to start picking his spots more carefully. That’s the blueprint Roger laid down last year when he planned a light tour schedule and took the entire clay season off, to ensure he would win whenever he did decide to show. (That largely worked.) Rafa might need to follow suit, as frustrating as that might initially appear to the man who treats every rally, no matter how small the opponent or low the stakes, like he’s down match point.