Is This the Year of Nadal? The Return of the Warrior

February 07, 2017

- Grant Whittington

Anyone who had emerged from a 10-year coma to see the Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal competing in the Australian Open Final (the day after the Williams’ sisters had renewed their own, Grand Slam rivalry) could be forgiven for thinking that they had only been unconscious for a week or two. After all, few would have guessed that these players would be able to defy both time and logic to compete for a place in the winners circle again, let alone so soon after a number of serious injury concerns).

The Return of Rafa to the Top Table, but Will He Stay Long?

While Federer deserves immense praise for his comeback win after six months of injury and rehabilitation at the tender age of 35, however, it is the man who he defeated whose achievement was arguably more impressive. Although the ferocious and tireless Nadal is four years’ Federer’s junior at 31, he has undergone sustained knee and wrist injuries that would have confined lesser men to the scrap-heap.

When the Spaniard withdrew from his beloved French Open in tears last May, he seemed like a man who had finally been broken after years of injury and playing on heroically through unquestionable pain. After all, he has suffered with tendinitis in both of his knees since his mid-twenties, with a debilitating wrist injury has recurred sporadically since his last major success in 2014. To overcome these challenges and rise to the top once again represents a truly incredible achievement, with the only doubt surrounding how long he can remain there for.

Nadal is defined by his competitive spirit and ability to perform under the most intense physical and mental pressure, and this is what sustains him against younger, fitter rivals. His self-belief is also unswerving, as even before his run at the French Open he talked bullishly about his ability to beat Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray when at his best.

Nadal’s mental state will only have been enhanced by his performance in out-running and overpowering the 25-year old Gregor Dimitrov in the Australian Open semis, and this psyche will ensure that he stays at the top for as long as his body allows him too.

What Will 2017 Hold for Rafa?

Rafa’s physical state will undoubtedly prove key in 2017 and beyond, although managing knocks and avoiding serious injury is something that Rafa is no stranger to. In fact, it is the trade-off for the Spaniard’s success, as he worked tirelessly to improve his strength, power and fitness in order to overcome his great rival Federer on all surfaces. This betrays the immensely competitive nature of the man, but it has also exacted a heavy physical toll throughout the years.

In truth, nobody can be sure how long Nadal’s body will hold out. For now, however, he appears to be as fit as he has been for years, and while his forehand may have lost a little zip he has compensated for this by improving his backhand and honing his precise serve. His game management skills also remain in fine fettle, and you would not bet against him adding to his haul of 14 Grand Slams this year.

He is already one of the leading French Open favourites with the bookmakers, which come as no surprise as he has won nine of his 14 majors in Paris. With Djokovic also out of sorts and Murray having never won the French Open, however, we should perhaps consider Nadal the man to beat at Roland Garros this year.

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