© Ella Ling

Miami 2012 - Nadal forehand

The second most important man in Spanish tennis

David Ferrer might not even be the second most important or influential man in Spanish tennis. Try Angel Ruiz-Cotorro instead. 
Ferrer must have accepted some years ago that he would always be eclipsed by Rafael Nadal. That would have been followed by the realisation that he would also come second to Nadal’s knee. Ferrer has gone deep into the draw at the US Open, yet the Spanish tennis public have been more interested in what the Spanish tennis federation’s doctor – who is also Nadal’s personal physician – has had to say.
That was because Ruiz-Cotorro held a news conference in Barcelona this week to discuss the partial tear of the patella tendon and the inflammation of the Hoffa’s fat pad in Nadal’s left knee, and when we can expect to see the Majorcan again; Nadal could be back on the practice court within a month, so there’s an outside chance that he could play competitive tennis before 2013. Nadal withdrew from the Olympics and the US Open because of his knee, and hasn’t played since a second-round defeat to Lukas Rosol in Wimbledon in June.
The good news is that there is no need to operate. “We have completely ruled out surgery. During the next month we’ll be doing training with a lot of physiotherapy, combined with hydrotherapy and laser, and we’ll see how he progresses. We believe that within two months the tendon will be in what we consider a normal state. In a month’s time, if the tests and his progress are positive, he can get back to work on the court. But that’s not the main goal, that is for the tendon to recover with the same strength it had,” the doctor said. “It won’t necessarily drag on, this injury. He wants to play when he can do so in perfect condition and not just for one tournament but to have continuity. When they tell you that you can’t play such important tournaments you are never pleased but now he is keen to recover and return as soon as possible.”
There can be little doubt about the doctor’s importance in Nadal’s tennis life. Ruiz-Cotorro has been Nadal’s physician since the tennis player was 14. Here’s what Nadal wrote about Ruiz-Cotorro in his autobiography: “He’s been by my side during the really tough injuries I’ve had to endure, providing not just wise medical advice but also the reassurance I’ve needed to keep fighting, encouraging me to believe in the powers of recovery. He is always available to me, wherever in the world I might be, responding to emergencies large or small. He was the chief medical officer of the Spanish Tennis Federation, dealing regularly with Spain’s top players, since before we met. He is part of the team at many of the top tennis tournaments, but when he is not around, he is with me in spirit.”

There’s another instructive passage in Nadal’s book, which tells you how he deals with the physical and mental agonies of career-disrupting injuries. “Playing sports is a good thing for ordinary people; sport played at the professional level is not good for your health. It pushes your body to limits that human beings are not naturally equipped to handle. That’s why just about every top professional athlete has been laid low by injury, sometimes a career-ending injury. There was a moment in my career when I seriously wondered whether I’d be able to continue competing at the top level. I play through pain much of the time, but I think all elite sports people do. All except Federer, at any rate,” Nadal wrote.

“I’ve had to push and mould my body to adapt it to cope with the repetitive muscular stress that tennis forces on you, but he just seems to have been born to play the game. His physique – his DNA – seems perfectly adapted to tennis, rendering him immune to the injuries the rest of us are doomed to put up with. They tell me he doesn’t train as hard as I do. I don’t know if it’s true, but it would figure. You get these blessed freaks of nature in other sports too. The rest of us just have to learn to live with pain, and long breaks from the game, because a foot, a shoulder, or a leg has sent a cry to help to the brain, asking it to stop.” When that happens, Nadal immediately calls for his doctor.