Rafael Nadal, winner of fourteen Grand Slam titles to date, had an inconsistent year in 2014. After starting last season out strong with a title in Doha (d. Monfils), the Spaniard then made the final of the 2014 Australian Open (l. to Wawrinka). More success followed on clay last year, including another title at Roland Garros in June, however the remainder of the 2014 season did not see strong results for Nadal following the French Open.
Nadal’s grass court season in 2014, for example, was not a memorable one. In Halle, an event in Germany that is part of the 250-series, Nadal was not able to come up with a match-win as he lost to Germany’s Dustin Brown in the round of sixteen. At the All England Club, Nadal was able to post a few wins but ultimately he bowed out to Nick Kyrgios, a player who was ranked 144th in the world at the time of their fourth round Wimbledon match.
The loss to Kyrgios was perhaps not that surprising given the recent losses the Spaniard has had at the event. It was all the more understandable when, a short time after Wimbledon 2014, it was learned that Nadal had been suffering from a problem with his wrist. The troublesome injury would see him miss several months of action, including the entire hard court summer season. That missed time would mean that the Spaniard would be a no-show in Toronto, Cincinnati, and at New York’s US Open – tournaments that Nadal had all won in 2013.
While Rafa did return from injury for a few hard court events in the fall of 2014, none of them saw him play his best tennis. In Beijing the Spaniard lost to Martin Klizan, a player who was ranked outside of the Top 50 at the time of their match. In Shanghai, Nadal failed to win a match and in Basel he lost to a relatively unknown player ranked outside of the Top 100.
When the Paris Masters rolled around, Nadal, just as he had been in Toronto, Cincinnati, and New York, was once again absent from the draw sheet. That absence would continue for the rest of the season as he also missed the 2014 ATP World Tour Finals, arguably the most prestigious tennis event outside of the four Grand Slams.
The wrist injury, less than par results, and missed events had many wondering what the future held in store for Nadal. 2015 then started with a drubbing at the hands of Andy Murray in exhibition play. An early round loss for the Spaniard followed in Doha as a low-ranked and aging Michael Berrer was able to take Nadal out of that draw, a tournament the Spaniard had won the previous year.
Heading into the first Grand Slam of the 2015 season, the Australian Open from Melbourne Park, Nadal had both believers and doubters. Partly in light of Rafa’s recent history of injuries, poor play, and missed events Novak Djokovic was (and still is, at time of writing) considered, not just a favorite, but a heavy favorite to win the 2015 Aussie (source: bet365).
At the first Grand Slam of 2015, Nadal did well in advancing through the first four rounds, however the Spaniard’s draw to the final was through Tomas Berdych. On Tuesday, January 27th the Czech player finally defeated Nadal for the first time since early in the two player’s careers.
Nadal fans, now looking ahead to the rest of 2015, have to wonder how much confidence one should have in the former World No. 1. Even if the wrist injury is a part of his past it is an issue that could resurface at any time. Additionally, the French Open champion has had trouble with his knees in the past – is that an injury that will return and blight him? What about his old back injury that allegedly cost him the 2014 Australian Open final?
If injuries return at the wrong time then tennis fans could see Nadal’s ranking plummet to levels unprecedented for him since prior to the 2005 clay court season. For example in March of 2005, Nadal was ranked 31st in the world – just ahead of major breakthrough success. Currently ranked third in the world, Nadal has a ton of ranking points to defend in Rio, Miami, Madrid, Rome, and Paris in the next four to five months. If a back injury, a knee injury, or a wrist injury struck in the months ahead it could be the beginning of the end of his stay in the very upper echelon of men’s tennis.
But in conclusion, there is no way to know when injuries will strike. On the other hand there are too many question marks with Nadal to have full confidence in him. Perhaps all tennis fans can expect is what we’ve seen in the past: dominant play when he has no significant injuries bothering him and missed tournaments or early exits when his health is subpar.
Prediction: 2015 will belong to Novak Djokovic, Tomáš Berdych, and Andy Murray.
Rafael Nadal has an ‘oops’ moment in the locker room.