TENNIS OPINION: Rafael Nadal dismisses idea of 'being past his best'
Ever since it became apparent Rafael Nadal's knees were as fragile as Marat Safin's mental toughness there's always been the temptation to write off his future.
‘He’ll struggle to be playing at the top in a year’, ‘he’s finished as a world-class tennis player’ are phrases many have uttered down the years. Indeed, us lot at 7DAYS Towers aren’t immune to dealing a forehand smash when it comes to debating his chances of adding to his trophy cabinet.
However, the manner of his 6-0, 6-2 triumph in Acapulco once again suggests it will be foolish to predict his exit from tennis’ top table.
He looked back to his best as he dismantled the world No.4, David Ferrer. The performance was dominant in every respect and the idea of him winning his eighth French Open in three months time no longer seems ridiculous.
Since his return from a seven-month injury layoff the 26-year-old has won 12 of 13 matches and has now committed himself to playing on the hard courts of Indian Wells, as ominous a sign as his victory on Saturday. While everyone goes on about his dodgy joints they seem to miss the point. The fact is ever since he became the dominant force he is his knees have never been perfect. He’s won the majority of his 11 Grand Slams and 52 titles with them and on this showing he can win some more. As he said: “I can’t say that the knee is not bothering me, because it is, but that’s normal.”
And the rest of tennis will know that all too well.
Nadal insists he’s ready to test his dodgy knee on hardcourts after winning the Mexican Open. The 11-time Grand Slam champion produced his best tennis since returning from a seven-month layoff three weeks ago as he blasted past top seed and defending champion David Ferrer 6-0, 6-2 on the clay in Acapulco.
There was speculation the Spaniard would skip the opening two Masters 1000 events of the year in Indian Wells and Miami this month to save himself for the French Open. But his knee held up so well that Nadal is confident he can handle the more jarring surface of the BNP Paribas Open, which gets underway this week.
“Indian Wells is one of my favourite tournaments and I want to keep competing because the knee is holding up and my heart says that I can do it, and compete is what I want to do now,” said Nadal, who is also set to play an exhibition against Juan Martin del Potro in New York tonight.
“Those seven months are in the past, hopefully forever. I played like that did not happened, but it did happen,” he added. Ferrer had won the Mexico Open the last three years but he had no answer to his compatriot, who wrapped up his 38th title on clay in just one hour and five minutes. Nadal even surprised himself with the performance, describing it as one of the “best matches of my career” - a staggering remark given all he has achieved, although understandable considering the extent of his injury woes.
Severe tendonitis in his left knee left the 26-year-old’s career on the ropes, but in three tournaments since returning last month Nadal has amassed a 12-1 record, including two Tour titles.
But it was only over the past week where he’s felt comfortable on court, saying: “This was a great week for me and today I played exceptionally well, I dominated the game against the world No. 4 and couldn’t be happier, especially when I think where I am coming from.
“Perhaps the conditions were in my favour but I feel it was maybe one of the best matches of my career.”