Rafael Nadal fears for battered knees


Picture: Wayne Ludbey

 Rafel Nadal fears for battered knees

RAFAEL Nadal lives not in fear of next week, next month or next year.
At 25, Nadal's dread does not exist in the short term, but of what might eventually become his gladiator frame.The baseline colossus is the nearest thing to a tennis Hercules. At 85kg and 1.85m, he is the sport's most powerful warrior.Yet the world No.2 wrestles with the ultimate tennis dilemma - how far he is prepared to push into the pain barrier on knees battered by a decade of explosive, quick-silver turning, lurching and springing in search of achievement.Desperate to excel again on the Australian Open's blue Plexicushion, Nadal is frightened of the pulverising effects of the sport's unyielding hardcourts.
"I'm a little bit scared about how my body gonna feel when I retire because the hardcourts like here, like the US Open, like Indian Wells, Miami are very aggressive on the body," he said in an exclusive interview.
Citing the careworn state of Lleyton Hewitt's body, Nadal wants tennis authorities to consider a reduction in hardcourt tournaments.As the sport's pre-eminent claycourter, and winner of six French Open titles, Nadal is sensitive to accusations of self-interest.
"I feel I can say these things now because I won here and the US Open on hardcourt," he said.
"Before, I could not.
"The only negative thing about tennis, if I have to say one, is that the competition is too much.
"The calendar makes the sport too hard.
"The hardcourts are too aggressive on the body.
"I really believe that can change. Without health, (performance) is impossible.
"I am not saying that we don't have to play in this type of courts, but thinking about health, I don't see footballers on the hard like this.
"I don't see the basketballers playing on the hard like this.
"All the sports that have aggressive movements are playing on softer surfaces.
"This surface, in my opinion, is very bad for the lower back, for the knees, for all of this.
"It makes me scared for my body for the future."
Nadal has played enough golf with Hewitt to have an inkling of what the physically deteriorating Australian has endured.
"Lleyton, he's a great champion," Nadal said.
"What he did is very difficult, being two years No.1 and winning two grand slams, winning two Masters Cup.
"Everything is really difficult.
"He's a top player but he's unlucky at the same time with the injury.
"The style of game of Lleyton was a little bit different - hard, strong, he fight a lot, run a lot for every ball.
"Maybe, he's unlucky today.
"He has injury, both hips, the knees, everything - that's very difficult to be at the right rhythm when this happens to you.
"It's sad. All of these things are not easy.
"With all of these things, he's had an unbelievable tennis career."
The mentally stressful obligation of competing on hardcourt aside, Nadal has more pressing issues in the shape of Novak Djokovic.
Nadal contested 10 finals in 2011, losing six of them, including Wimbledon and the US Open, to the Serb.
A shoulder injury has added to the complexity of Nadal's Melbourne Park preparation. That problem has now been rectified.
But Djokovic looms larger than ever.
Nadal knows better than anybody that the only constant in the tennis jungle is change. So, too, do Hewitt and Roger Federer.
"Roger is not going to be there forever," Nadal said.
"I won't be there forever. Novak won't be there forever. Tennis changes, the sport changes.
"It's good to have players in the top for a long time because that's good for the fans.
"But at the same time, it's good to have new people coming in.
"Not that Novak is anything new. He was No 3 for several years, and he deserved to be there."
Nadal has nothing but praise for Djokovic's 10-title, 70-6 tour de force in 2011.
"The year of Djokovic was really amazing, one of the best in the history of tennis," Nadal said.
"So you have to congratulate him and wish him all the best for this year.
"Every year is different but his level is fantastic."
But there is a clear indication Nadal has no plans to allow the Serb to profit a moment longer than necessary.
His ambition is undimmed.
"My goal is every day," he said.
"The easiest thing is to say (that he wants) to be in the top position in the ranking, to win the grand slam.
"The true is to be a better player every day. If you do that, the rest of the things are gonna come.
"The important thing is to keep improving. There's a few things I need to do better and keep on improving for this year.
"It's the work of not only these two weeks, but the work of all the time, almost every day."
Nadal bristles at the notion that Djokovic - or any other player - is unstoppable.
The same things were once said about the Majorcan.
Now he is being asked to weather backhanded barbs over his future based on a year in which he finished at No. 2, won a major, two other titles and shared in a fifth Davis Cup triumph.
"In general, it was a very positive year," he smiled.
"In a year where you play in the finals of three grand slams, you win Roland Garros and win the final of Davis Cup and play 10 finals in total - the year is good.
"Sure, I lost a lot of finals, but to say that year is not good is gonna be too arrogant and I am not that arrogant to think it's a bad year.
"I don't consider myself that good. I consider myself less good."
Nadal knows all too well how quickly things can go awry.
When he flew out of Doha a year ago, he felt he was "playing perfect to compete for the title".
A leg strain in the quarter-finals against Dave Ferrer wrecked those plans.
By season's end, Nadal wearily gave the impression he desperately needed an extended break.
"I was happy," he said.
"I wasn't perfect, but I was playing really good, not perfect.
"Against Djokovic last year, I had to be perfect and I wasn't.
"I was lacking things that I had always had, such as explosiveness and the impetus that has bothered my rivals."
One of those "things" was consistency. Unrelenting aggression was another. And then there was the shoulder problem.
"He had shoulder problems," Nadal's uncle and coach Toni Nadal said.
"This translated into a little less velocity, and without that power, its difficult to compete on this surface."
Nadal scuttles suggestions he no longer is motivated. He allows that his signature passion might have abated in 2011, but insists he is now as hungry as ever.
"I know I am working well, with a much more positive attitude than I had during the second half of last season, especially in the final stretch," Nadal said.
"I am happy with the level of my game, but I need to keep working every day to become a better player.
"When a new season starts, everything is different. At least you have to do everything in your reach to make it so.
"I am hoping to do my best at the Australian Open. That is the only thing I can do. Go to the courts every day and do my best.
"Then we will see."

Thanks to Karl Rust for linking!!

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