Rafael Nadal faces a crucial point in his career as yet another injury has put an end to his 2016 campaign.
The Spaniard has been dogged by problems for the past two years, sending him tumbling down the ATP rankings and out of contention in Grand Slams.
The 30-year-old has been one of the best players to grace the men’s game, notching 14 major titles over the course of his career. His duels with Roger Federer were must-watch tennis as the duo produced matches that will arguably go down in history as the greatest the sport has seen.
However, since winning the French Open for a record ninth time, the Spaniard has been plagued with fitness issues which have limited his style on the court. This year has proven to be Nadal’s least productive since 2004, failing to advance beyond the fourth round of any of the Grand Slams.
The Spaniard has taken time away from the sport to overcome his injury problems in the hope of extending his career in the sport. There is still time for Nadal to surpass his great rival Federer to overhaul his record of 17 major titles, but he faces a tough challenge to beat out Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray who are currently dominating the game.
Roland-Garros would be his best chance to add to his collection of crowns, with the latest tennis odds backing him at 5/1 to win the French Open for a 10th time. The question is whether his body will allow him to keep playing in the style that allows him to flourish on the court or will it continue to deteriorate to bring a premature end to his career?
Along with seemingly having every stroke in his arsenal, Nadal’s ability to keep points alive with his athleticism was one of the strongest facets of his game. Even when his opponent had the upper hand the Spaniard was never out of the point until it was on the scoreboard, making him infuriating to play against.
His duel with Federer in the 2008 Wimbledon final was proof of his outrageous movement at the back of the court, winning several crucial points in long rallies that played an integral part in his success, ending the Swiss’ dominance at the All England Club. Although this ability was vital in guiding him to the top, it may have also played a role in his decline in recent years.
The Spaniard has suffered knee and back issues, which have diminished his fleet-of-foot prowess and have also taken a fraction of power off his groundstrokes. Such was the quality of these attributes it has not been enough to knock him out of the world’s top 10, but has prevented him from matching the powers of Djokovic and Murray in important matches.
At full health he remains a force on clay, his most dominant surface. He defeated Stanislas Wawinka and Murray in the Monte-Carlo Masters earlier this year before overcoming Gael Monfils to claim the title, his first in over two years on the ATP 1000 Tour.
That result may convince the Spaniard to pick and choose his events from now on given his latest setback. Should he become solely active during the spring months then it may lengthen his career and give him the best opportunity of surpassing Federer as the most successful men’s player of the Open Era.