Thursday, 10 February 2011

Sports Illustrated Mailbag

Rafa question in this weeks Mailbag that poses an interesting question.

Do you think the Agassi-Williams-Clijsters career plan would work for Rafael Nadal? Take a year or so off from the tour and save yourself some wear and tear on the body. What would the pros and cons be?
Steve, Kirksville, Mo.

• Sadly, Steve raises a valid question. If we've learned anything about Nadal, it's this:

A) He is an exceptional tennis player.

B) His style of play -- and medical history -- is not exactly consonant with physical health and thus, a long career. The pros of following the Agassi-Williams-Clijsters blueprint and slashing his schedule are, in theory, immense. It's really all about the Majors at this point.

If he can arrive healthy and rested four times a year, giving himself an optimal chance to win the big prizes, that's a small price to pay for missing Doha, Rome, et al.

The drawbacks, though, are manifold. It's hard for most players (not named Serena Williams) to helicopter into big events and arrive in match shape. Note than on the occasions Nadal has come in cold, he hasn't always done so well. Related to that (and, again, invoking Serena) a player's fitness level drops with sparse match play. Especially since he's always competed so consistently, Nadal's legacy will take a bit of a hit if he takes a long hiatus and gives his playing schedule a dramatic haircut. There are commercial consequences as well. While he's not particularly motivated by money, I can't imagine his management team would lustily embrace a decision to cut those exhibitions, those appearance fee events and risk losing bonuses tied to endorsements. The ATP, of course, would be devastated if Nadal adopted the Serena Williams schedule.

If it were another player, I would be more enthusiastic. But Nadal is, at his core, a jock. He'll play if he can. I don't think it's in his nature to tinker and manipulate his schedule. I think we just need to gird ourselves accordingly. Nadal will treat us to spectacular tennis. And once or twice a year, he will scare us when he contracts an injury.

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