The news that Rafael Nadal is to miss the Cincinnati Masters next week is bad news not only for the Spaniard’s legions of fans and the Cincinnati organisers but also, perhaps, for the US Open. The knee injuries that forced him out of the Olympics have not recovered yet and it must be a massive concern both inside and outside his camp that the man who won the US Open so brilliantly in 2010 and reached the final last year may not make it to New York this time.
Nadal likes to get a couple of tournaments, at least, under his belt before playing in a grand slam event – the only exception has been the Australian Open, but that comes after an off-season when he can train to be fully fit, and he still plays an exhibition and then in Doha every year to get himself ready. It is obviously not ideal to go into a grand slam event with no match practice on hard courts and after a lengthy break but the question is will he risk his health to give it a go, knowing he has 1,200 ranking points to defend?
In the end, though, it is simple. If he is not ready, he won’t play. There is no point risking any long-term damage, especially on a surface which is not his favourite. There are many people who worry for Nadal’s future because of the physical nature of his game but though he has had more than his fair share of niggles, and though the tendinitis in his knees seems to be a recurring problem, he has actually been incredibly consistent when it comes to the grand slams. Since he hit the big time, the only grand slam event he missed was Wimbledon in 2009, when he was the defending champion.
It is all speculation, of course, but the interesting thing will be whether Nadal decides to shut down his year, if he is unable to play in New York. With the exception of the 1200 points from the US Open itself, he actually does not have many ranking points to defend in the rest of the year, having racked up only 590 in the corresponding tournaments this time last year.
Novak Djokovic spoke recently about how many of the players no longer look at tennis as a January to November sport. Instead, their seasons are broken up into segments to allow themselves a few breaks. As sad as it would be to have Nadal missing from a grand slam event, perhaps his best bet would be to start his 2013 in mid-October 2012, giving himself a chance to do well at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, for which he is already qualified, and then he can carry the momentum to Australia. Whenever he returns, he will give 100 percent, so let’s hope he recovers sooner rather than later.