x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The hard truth for Rafael Nadal

The Spaniard suggests his injury-plagued seasons could be caused by the courts, writes Ahmed Rizvi.

As the tennis world awaits Rafael Nadal's return, the recuperating Spaniard has been busy enjoying activities that his packed tennis calendar does not usually allow.

He has been playing golf and has been to watch Real Madrid. He has also been spending time with his extended family, tutoring some of his younger relatives. "Doing homework with my cousins," an update on his Facebook page said.

What Nadal has not done, though, since losing in the second round of Wimbledon is to step on a tennis court and he does not know when that might happen.

"This is a day-by-day thing," Nadal told the Daily Mail. "I have checks every week to see how I'm improving. I can't predict what will happen."

Nadal, 26, looks certain to miss the London ATP World Tour Finals and the Davis Cup finale, but hopes to be back for the 2013 Australian Open. "That is the biggest goal for me, to come back just before then … but I cannot say for sure it is going to happen," he said.

"The only thing is to recover well. I want to be 100 per cent when I come back. I don't want to keep playing every day with doubts, not knowing if my knee is going to answer all the questions."

The pain in his left knee stems from Hoffa's Syndrome, a condition Nadal blames in part on hard courts. "You don't watch footballers playing on a hard surface, or basketball players, those sports with rapid movements," he said. "Hard courts are very negative for the body. I know the sport is a business and creating these courts is easier than clay or grass, but I am 100 per cent sure it is wrong."

Similar views have been expressed in the past. "The key to reducing the sport's increasing injury toll lies in reducing the number of tournaments on hard courts," John Alexander, a former Australian Fed Cup captain, said in 2005.

Before 1978, none of the four grand slams were played on hard courts. But the US Open moved to hard courts in 1978 and the Australian Open followed in 1988, which meant all their warm-up tournaments also converted to hard surfaces.

"If you go back to 1974-75 when three grand slams were still on grass, knee injuries were virtually non-existent," Alexander said.

But, as Nadal concedes, tennis is unlikely to revert to natural playing surfaces. It is easier to blame the Spaniard's grinding playing style for his injuries than accept that the game could be moving in the wrong direction.

arizvi@thenational.ae