Two years ago Rafael Nadal was at the pinnacle of the tennis world. His first U.S. Open title capped a run of three straight grand slam wins that had many in the tennis world pondering when, not if, the Spaniard would eclipse Roger Federer’s haul of major championships.
Now the ultra-talented 26-year-old is just wondering when he’ll be able to get back on court.
On Friday he admitted his absence from the tour could continue indefinitely, and his balky knee could force him to reduce his tournament schedule going forward.
“I have to listen (to the doctors) and be patient, and I will come back when my knee is well,” Nadal told reporters on his home island of Mallorca. “The best thing I can do now is to stop, get fully well, accept the situation and work hard to come back better.”
Nadal revealed that he is suffering from Hoffa’s Syndrome, a fat pad impingement that often results from forceful and direct impact on the knee. Known for his physical style of play, Nadal relies heavily on his mobility and lower body strength from his standard position well behind the baseline.
Tendinitis in both knees prevented Nadal from defending his Wimbledon title in 2009 and the issue has sprung up multiple times in the years since, causing Nadal to criticize the demands of the nearly-year-round tour calendar. But each time, with rest, he has always come back to cement his place among the game’s best players.
Nadal was ranked No. 1 in the world for a full year until Novak Djokovic defeated him at the 2011 Wimbledon championships to take over the top spot. After his stunning second-round loss at the All England Club in June, the Spaniard slipped to No. 3 for the first time since May, 2010. Now, with his extended absence, he’ll likely cede that spot to Olympic gold medalist Andy Murray.
But for the time being, Nadal’s primary concern is his health. On Friday he said he will likely need to reduce his number of hard court events and focus on the more forgiving clay — which is also his favorite surface.
“At this stage in my career my ranking is of the least importance,” Nadal said. “The most important thing is that I am sure I am fit to compete like I did during the first six months of the year, with a solid chance to win in each tournament I enter. After being almost eight years (sic) ranked either first or second, I think that being ranked second or fourth or sixth doesn’t really change anything.”