2022 has so far exceeded expectations for Rafael Nadal and some of the tennis he has showcased has been close to his very best. But as has been the case for much of his career, anytime he rediscovers his rhythm, an injury sneaks up on him and disrupts his plans.
The record Grand Slam winner was defeated in the Indian Wells final by Taylor Fritz, 6-3 7-6 (5), after having suffered a rib injury in the semi-final against Carlos Alcaraz. During the final, Nadal revealed that he was having breathing difficulties which later turned out to be as a result of a stress fracture on one of his left ribs. The injury is expected to sideline the star for around four to six weeks.
Following the crushing news, he wrote on Twitter: “As it turns out, I have a stress crack in one of my ribs and will be out for four to six weeks. This is not good news and I didn’t expect this.
“I am down and sad because after the start of the season I have had such a good time. I reached a very important part of the year with very good feelings and good results.
“But I’ve always had that fighting and overcoming spirit and what I will do is be patient and work hard after my recovery. Once again I thank everyone for the support.”
With Nadal, injury setbacks are familiar as he has suffered many setbacks over the years, some which had left many fearing that they would never be able to see him at his best ever again, but as recent history has shown, you cannot keep greatness down for long. This latest injury saw an incredible 20-game unbeaten streak come to an end, jeopardising the 35-year-old’s preparation for battle in his favourite arena, the French Open, in which he has won a record 13 times.
He has had no luck with injuries throughout his career, but his spirit and determination has seen him rise above all the physical hurdles his body has thrown at him and that has spurred him on to become the all-time leading Grand Slam titles winner with 21 after his sensational display against World No.1 Daniil Medvedev at the Australian Open final at the start of the year. His many returns to fitness have been lauded by his professional rival, Roger Federer, who labelled Nadal as his inspiration for coming back stronger after an injury lay-off.
This injury is of course an inconvenience, but Nadal has gone through much worse ailments which have seen him miss multiple Grand Slams in a season. The concerning issue with the injuries he picks up now is that he isn’t as young as he once was. The body will not be fit and raring to go like it was in the past. He is not alone, as Federer and Andy Murray have shared these problems as the ageing process highlights nature is taking course.
Of course Nadal is frustrated and surprised at this rib injury because for the first time in a long time he was able to get back into form, consistently performing well and for a brief moment forgetting that his body isn’t invincible. The awe-inspiring 20-match unbeaten run was great for aspiring tennis players around the world as well as those who have followed the Spaniard’s career with such interest over the years, as well as his own confidence. It was as though we were able to travel back in time and witness Nadal hot off the press in his early years as a professional.
His latest setback will see his preparation for Roland Garros disrupted as he will certainly miss the Monte-Carlo Master and Barcelona Open, tournaments he has won 11 and 12 times respectively, and he could also miss the Madrid Open at the start of May. He will be heading into the French Open out of synchronisation, something which he has worked tirelessly to be in a strong position for because it is his preferred battleground.
He won the tournament for four consecutive years between 2017 and 2020 and this year’s spectacle will provide him the opportunity to gain some breathing space as the all-time Grand Slam champion should he prevail on the clay court once more. Victory at Roland Garros would see Nadal move two titles clear ahead of Federer and Novak Djokovic, while also strengthening his legend on the tennis circuit.
As he has proved in the past, Nadal can overcome any physical ailment that he suffers and while this period on the sidelines is cruel and frustrating, he has come through a lot worse, and each time stronger.
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