Nadal may be a relentless bull with the racket, but there were times during those seven months of recovery when he was thoroughly discouraged. By tennis standards, he is now middle-aged. The injury this time required a lengthier rehab than his simpler tendinitis problems in 2009.
Rafael Nadal arrived for an exhibition on Monday at the Garden with a painless left knee and fresh reason for optimism about his future. Nadal had whipped David Ferrer to win a second straight clay tournament in Acapulco on Saturday, dropping only two games while shedding a bit more of the fear that came with seven months of aching inactivity.
"In Acapulco, I started to feel free running for every ball," Nadal said. "It was a big surprise against one of the best players in the world, to be competitive in my third tournament of the year."
This is of course outstanding news for the men's tennis tour, which can ill afford to lose one of its most charismatic stars. Nadal owns 11 major titles and a fan base even larger than that of his historic rival, Roger Federer. His seven-month disappearance after Wimbledon, due to a partially torn patella tendon in the left knee, affected both the U.S. and Australian Opens. A withdrawal this spring at Roland Garros would leave an immense void at the French Open, his personal playground.
It appears there will be no such absence in Paris, at Wimbledon, and hopefully not at the U.S. Open for the fifth-ranked player in the world. Nadal, who was to face Juan Martin del Potro on Monday after Serena Williams played Victoria Azararenka, intends to rejoin the tour now for all its biggest tournaments -- beginning this week with Indian Wells on hardcourts.
There is a good argument to be made that Nadal would be best off now focusing his energies on clay and grass-court tournaments, because he is very unlikely to beat Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray in the hardcourt Grand Slam events. At 26, Nadal still may have three or four French Open titles left in him, and perhaps one or two Wimbledon championships. That might be enough to tie him with Federer's total of 17 majors, assuming the Swiss star is done winning his own share at 31.
Even Charlie Pasarell, the director at Indian Wells, understands how a hard-court tourney like his own might tax Nadal's patella tendon.
"A player like Rafa exerts so much energy," Pasarell said. "There's not a ball he doesn't go after. It's hard. It's hard on his knees. But hardcourts have been around for a long time. It's just a question of making a sensible schedule and dealing with injuries as they come."
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SOURCE: New York Daily News