Nadal Is Stuck Between A Rock and a Hard Court

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 31, 2007

FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y., Aug. 30 -- Somewhere in a Manhattan hotel room, there is an Italian doctor, Pier Francesco Parra, who is called "the Magician" by many of the world's top athletes. He's here for the duration of the U.S. Open, and he has brought his special machine -- the one with five lasers -- that speeds up the healing of strained muscles and tendons.

The great Italian skier Alberto Tomba credited his longevity, in part, to Parra. And nearly every Italian tennis player with a world ranking claims to be in his debt, too.

This week, the world's No. 2 tennis player, Rafael Nadal, has joined his client list as well, counting on the lasers to work their magic before his U.S. Open comes to a premature end.

Nadal's movement was so limited after he injured a tendon in his left knee on the eve of the U.S. Open that he barely made it through his first-round match Wednesday against an unheralded Australian wild card.

On Thursday, Nadal learned that tournament officials had granted his wish and scheduled his second-round match for Friday night, as opposed to during the day, which gives him an extra half day to heal. Until then, Nadal is visiting Parra three times daily.

"It is funny to see other players waiting to get treated," Nadal wrote in his blog for the Times of London. "Thank God his hotel is nearby!"

Nadal hit lightly for about an hour Thursday morning with American Wayne Odesnik, telling him at the outset that he didn't want to run too much because of his knees.

Tendinitis is a common problem among touring pros. Many say the pounding of hard courts largely is to blame. Nadal hinted as much earlier in the week, lamenting the fact that more tournaments aren't played on surfaces that are gentler on the joints, such as grass or clay. "In my opinion is a little bit mistake," Nadal said, "because for the players and for a longer career is better play in other surfaces."

American Andy Roddick, who excels on hard courts and struggles on clay, snorted at the suggestion that the sport has too many hard-court tournaments. "I'm not going to throw a pity party, by any means," Roddick said when asked about Nadal's observations.

Roddick has battled tendinitis, too, but he said it's nothing players can't overcome if they just don't mind the pain. "You're not really risking long-term damage, which really begs the question: Are you willing to go out there and just fight it out?" he said.

But according to Jonas Bjorkman, 35, the smarter play is to rest.

"A lot of people, they still play a lot of tennis when they have it, and that's obviously not the right medicine," said Bjorkman, who has competed professionally for 16 years. "You need to rest. Hard court is a tough surface, not only for the knees but for the lower back. It's a tough sport, but you've got to be smart and have your breaks."

Britain's Tim Henman, 32, believes that players' body type and style of play have a lot to say about how their knees hold out.

At 6 feet 1 and 170 pounds, Henman is light on his feet. And he prefers to keep points short, chipping and charging the net. Nadal is the same height as Henman but nearly 20 pounds heavier, and the Spaniard prefers to wear down opponents by out-slugging them from the baseline.

"When you're built like that, and you play like that, I think it's almost inevitable," Henman said of Nadal and his struggles with his knees. "I'm fortunate that my body type and my game is relatively stress-free. Nadal is a different story. His game is physically so demanding. He's putting so much strain on his body. You've got to manage it as best you can."

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