After missing the last six months due to a knee injury, Rafael Nadal was set to make his very awaited comeback at the Abu Dhabi exhibition tournament. However, a twist in the plot came in the form of a stomach virus, which forced him to withdraw from the event. His presence in Doha, next week, was not guaranteed either.
The news many tennis fans dreaded came this Friday, as the Spaniard announced not only that he was withdrawing from Doha, but also from the Australian Open, because the stomach virus that afflicted him kept him from practising during a week, thus delaying his return plans:
“As my team and doctors say, the safest thing to do is to do things well and this virus has delayed my plans of playing these weeks. I will have to wait until the Acapulco tournament to compete again although I could consider to play before at any other ATP event
My knee is much better and the rehabilitation process has gone well as predicted by the doctors, but this virus didn’t allow me to practice this past week and therefore I am sorry to announce that I will not play in Doha and the Australian Open, as we had initially scheduled.”
Like many, I must say that I personally don’t really buy the whole “stomach virus” story at this point. I do not mean, here, that I don’t believe he had a stomach virus, just that I don’t believe that the virus is what prevents him from playing in Doha, and especially in Melbourne.
What may be more plausible is that, perhaps (and that is only speculation on my part), Rafa doesn’t yet feel comfortable as far as his knee is concerned, and that he doesn’t want to risk it in a best-of-five format, or even on hard courts, for the moment.
In the end, Nadal’s long-awaited comeback will take place only in Acapulco, at the end of February, unless he enrols in another of the Golden Swing events prior to that, in which case the most logical one would be São Paulo, two weeks before the Mexican event.
Only one thing is certain: this latest delay in the Spaniard’s comeback will push him out of the top 5 after the Australian Open, where he had last year’s final to defend.
What is left are interrogations
Would it have been better for him to have surgery, repair the knee once and for all, and put the doubts behind for the remainder of his career? After all, had they done that, it would have taken approximately the same time for Rafa to come back and many doubts will have been dissipated regarding a recurrence of the knee injury.
How long will it take Nadal to get his rhythm back and, most important of all, his confidence? His last lengthy layoff, in the summer of 2009, was only for a month and it took him until Monte Carlo 2010 to really have sufficient rhythm and confidence to beat the strongest opponents. This time, he will have been away from the courts even longer and even coming back on his beloved clay might not prove sufficient to regain enough rhythm, at least from the start, to do that.
Will we ever see the “old Nadal”? Only time will tell, but my guess is that we might, just not in 2013.
From this point forward, we can only wish for Rafael Nadal to come back healthy, no matter when nor where.