Rafael Nadal announced on Wednedsay he's pulling out of the U.S. Open, the year’s final Slam event, as he continues to rest his forever weary knees after sustaining an injury during Wimbledon. Nadal's absence from New York’s largest sporting event will be a huge blow to the tournament. With an already exhausted field set to descend on Gotham, fans will feel cheated as world’s second (or third?) best player isn’t ready to play.
As soon as Nadal stated that his status is up in the air last week, a sizeable chunk of tennis fans (or at least a sizeable chunk of those who post online) took to the message boards across the Internet and began to spew their seemingly endless supply of venom at Nadal. My general practice is to not glance at comments on most sites as they’re usually little more than irrational, meandering, angry and vulgar tirades directed at the player or team they don’t like; more specifically, the vast majority of commentary by fans seems to generate from this childlike sense that if you are a big fan of player A, then you must hate Player B, so therefore I, who love Player B, must hate Player A. But once in a while I do check them to get a pulse of the current state of passionate online fandom within the tennis world.
Among the complaints lodged against the 11-time Slam champion that I noticed after just a few minutes of perusing the Web were the following (I’m paraphrasing for the sake of brevity); how can Nadal be hurt if he was seen relaxing with his girlfriend or on the beach?; why, whenever he’s hurt, does Nadal always blame the schedule?; he’s losing it and he can’t stand that he was never dominant to begin with; there’s no doubt why he’s suffering at this time, he’s on steroids and is avoiding testing; he is such a cry baby, the schedule is hard for everyone; he’s s a sore loser, he knows that he can only play on clay; and, my favorite, he knows that he’s now passed by Andy Murray and he can’t take being the No. 4 player in the world and his career is ending so early because of his physical style of play.
Now, of course, there are many intelligent and thoughtful fans who post meaningful and insightful commentary. But unfortunately this doesn’t constitute the majority of Web chatter.
And there are valid reasons - for fan, foe or media – to be annoyed by Nadal. I don’t fall into this camp, but, for example, his habit of always waiting to get on court first and his other habitual tics does get under the skin of some and that is an understandable annoyance.
But the constant refrains enumerated that have escalated as Nadal’s career enters its final stages are an insult to a champion of the highest order, a man who – like his great rival Roger Federer – has conducted himself with peerless sportsmanship during his reign atop the sport.
Additionally, what has always bothered me is that tennis traditionalists, those who believe that a ball must be struck in only the most classical of poses (such as Pete Sampras and Federer), have always despised Nadal for his unorthodox, extreme style.
A quick retort to those witless ramblings referenced above:
- If one’s knees are aching it doesn’t preclude one from smiling, laughing or being in the company of one’s family on a beach or other peaceful locale or in the presence of a beautiful woman.
- Nadal thinks the schedule is too long – nearly every player thinks the schedule is too long.
- Nadal’s record of dominance is forever sealed in the history books, a dominance of rare consistency – if Nadal secures a Slam victory in 2013 it would mark the ninth straight year he’s done so, a feat no one – not Federer, Bjorn Borg, Pete Sampras or Rod Laver – has accomplished in the modern era. Further, Nadal has a winning record against all his rivals, including Federer, Novak Djokovic and Murray.
- The testing procedure for PEDs in tennis is one of the most draconian in all sports and the randomness would make it nearly impossible for someone of Nadal’s caliber to cheat and get away with it. And for all those who says his arms are ridiculously big, just take a look at Nadal as a teenager, he was a physical specimen at a young age.
- Yes, Nadal is a clay court specialist, likely the greatest to ever toil on the dirt. Yet his five Wimbledon finals, of which he won two, and his two Australian finals, of which he won one, and his two U.S. Open finals, of which he also won one, should cast aside such a ridiculous notion that he is a one-turf man. Here’s the list of modern players who have won the career Grand Slam – Laver, Andre Agassi, Federer and Nadal.
- If he stays healthy I’d be surprised if Nadal isn’t the No. 1 player in the world by the start of next year’s Wimbledon. And, beside the point, if his career were to end today it’d still stand out as one of the finest in the history of the sport. What so many forget is that Nadal, like Borg before him, won so often and so early that he’s bound to decline a couple of years before his contemporaries.
Let’s just hope at this point that he’ll be back, ready and healthy for Melbourne next year. Meanwhile, U.S. Open remains the only major event that hasn’t gifted the tennis world a Nadal-Federer encounter. It will have to wait.