Earlier in July, I was eating dinner with my family and the topic of Rafa overtaking Federer’s 17 majors arose. I told my older brother I thought it was quite possible because I figured Rafa should conservatively speaking win 1-2 more Roland Garros titles and that would mean that a smattering of success over the next 3 seasons in Melbourne, London and New York would result in getting to 17 or more. I figure his head-to-head lead would mean a tie went to Rafa if both greats ended with 17 slams. My brother said, “I’m not sure he’ll be in good enough health to win even one more Roland Garros title.” I retorted, “I’d pick Rafa at Roland Garros even if he had recently been attacked by piranhas.” We laughed, and that was that.
My nonchalance about Rafa’s health comes from my belief that almost all world-class athletes have nagging injuries, but that Rafa just is more willing to talk about and publicly fret about his injuries. The news that Rafa was skipping both Masters 1000 tournaments leading up to the US Open strikes me as odd. Also, the nature of this injury is a cause of concern.
Right Wrist Issues?
A lot of two-fisted backhand players in recent years have been experiencing injuries in their non-dominant wrists.* The most notable is Juan Martin del Potro’s whose rise in tennis seems to have been seriously delayed if not totally derailed by this problem. David Nalbandian and Kim Clijsters had issues with this problem as well. Novak Djokovic had a problem with his left wrist at Monte Carlo this year. Rafa is reporting problems with his right wrist as the reason for missing two Masters 1000 events and dropping 2000 points off of his ranking. It must be serious as Rafa typically plays his best when he has been playing frequently. To fail to defend 2 titles as he enters the US Open as the defending champion with no tune-up matches is not Rafa-like. Even in 2009 when Rafa skipped Wimbledon with health concerns he returned to the courts prior to the US Open.
- Tennis fans in Canada and Ohio will miss out on seeing an all-time great and world #2 play. This is a losing situation for the fans, for the events, and for broadcasters.
- Rafael Nadal will drop 2000 ranking points, but he will enter the US Open as the #2 seed.
- Roger Federer is at a stage in which he needs a few breaks to come through a draw at a major. If Rafa is rusty and loses earlier than the semis in New York and Andy Murray is still on walkabout, Roger Federer might find himself needing either 2 winnable matches or needing 1 winnable match and 1 great effort vs. Nole to take an 18th major.
- Novak Djokovic’s chances of finishing 2014 #1 increase mightily. Novak added 4100 points to his ranking total between the conclusion of the 2013 US Open and the closing of the 2013 season. He is defending an additional 1200 points at the US Open. Still, Rafa will drop 2000 points, and Novak is likely to win at least one of the two Masters 1000 events leading into the US Open. If Rafa fails to defend his US Open title regardless of Nole’s showing in New York, I think Novak finishes 2014 ranked #1.
- Players Outside of the Big 4 benefit from Rafa’s absence. Stanislas Wawrinka, Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov, and other players looking to overthrow the quadrinity of tennis have a great chance to add confidence and momentum prior to the start of the US Open. Once the US Open begins, these players would be looking at roadblocks comprised of Rafael Nadal without any matchplay, Andy Murray missing his January 2012-July 2013 swagger, a 33-year-old Roger Federer and of course a confident Novak Djokovic. It has to be appealing to need to only knock off one in form legend versus needing to potentially beat three confident members of the big four.
* The reason for many of these non-dominant wrist backhand injuries comes from the technique being taught with two-handed backhands. Players are encouraged to use a forehand/semi-western grip with their non-dominant hand on a two-handed backhand. This allows for a lot of spin, but it is not an overly natural motion. I am not certain if this is the case with Rafa as his backhand technique while effective has always been hard for me to analyze.