Rafael Nadal announced today that he won't be able to play against Novak Djokovic on July 14 in what was to become a historic exhibition played in front of over 80,000 people because of a flare-up of tendinitis in his knee. He will instead spend the next two weeks rehabilitating his knee. This will delay his preparation for the Summer Olympics in London later this month but will not stop him from competing.
Fans will remember that it was tendinitis in both of his knees in 2009 that sidelined him for much of the year. Nadal had started the year by winning the Australian Open but injured his knee soon thereafter. What followed was the most frustrating year of his career. He suffered his only loss at the French Open, was forced to withdraw from Wimbledon because of the knee problems, and lost in straights sets in the semi-finals of the U.S. Open to Juan Martin Del Potro.
At the time, many wondered if Nadal's knee issues would become a recurrent theme and potentially drastically shorten what was becoming one of the greatest tennis careers ever. Those fears were allayed, however, when Nadal returned in 2010 and won three of the four Grand Slam tournaments in one of the most dominating years a single player has ever had in tennis.
Given his aggressive and physical playing style, however, Nadal's knees have continued to take a pounding. Perhaps this is why Nadal has been so vocal in his opposition to the long and difficult schedule that the ATP requires of its players. It's possible that by being forced to play 80-90 matches each season Nadal's career will be shortened by at least a few years.
It's difficult to know if Nadal's team is just playing extra cautious with him right now following his early exit from Wimbledon. They might feel he simply needs a mental break from the game and will use the excuse of treating his knee to give it to him. I don't doubt that Nadal's knees would benefit from some extra time off. Typically the top ATP players take an extended break of at least a month between Wimbledon and the hardcourt tuneup tournaments in front of the U.S. Open. This year, with the Olympics falling right in the middle of that break, the players will be under greater physical and mental pressure.
I certainly hope Nadal's knee issues are nothing serious. No matter the reason, I'm glad he's taking a break at this point in the year before the pounding that his knees will take during the hardcourt season that is coming. I'm looking forward to watching him compete at the Summer Olympics and at the U.S. Open and I want to watch a healthy Nadal. Certainly the world of tennis is much better when he is playing.
Julie is a lifelong tennis fan and a featured tennis contributor for the Yahoo Contributor Network. She considers Rafael Nadal to be one of the greatest players ever and loves to watch him play.