I’ll keep this short and devastated.
(Mildly devastated. Maybe a little medium. But not hot. No, no, not hot. I have to keep this in perspective, after all. (Little known fact: devastateds are classified like salsas))
(Also this is obviously somewhat unpalatably untimely, which is in part owing to the somewhat amusing fact that I wrote this a couple of days ago and thought I had posted it, only to find it still socializing in the “Drafts” section today, because apparently navigating the difference between the not even alliterative as it is in email making it more understandable in that context (i.e. Save and Send) Save and Publish was a little beyond my faculties on Wednesday. Of course now I have some distance and am reading this back today and am cringing and laughing because despite my proclamation below that I’m not trying to be doomy and gloomy, it’s a little doomy and gloomy. But, I’m going to post it anyway because I already wrote it and this was indeed how I felt and do indeed still feel to some degree.)
So Rafa withdrew from the U.S. Open. It’s not shocking in the context of what’s unfolded over the past three weeks–withdrawals from Toronto and Cincinnati–but it remains shocking in the context of the situation in general–month-long vacation after winning the French and finishing Wimbledon not playing particularly well but at least in reasonably good health ends in a serious injury to one of the few body parts that Rafa’s never had trouble with before. It’s still all just kind of hard to fathom/comprehend/understand. It came out of nowhere. It came at a time when Rafa’s body was not under any particular stress. And now, completely unexpectedly, all of Rafa’s summer hard court titles are gone and the remainder of his season and who knows what else is in jeopardy. It’s like a nightmarish combination of knee injury ’12 and back injury ’14.
This is a hard one. I don’t want to be unnecessarily or dramatically doomy and gloomy. I also can’t ignore the facts. He can’t make it through a season without minimum one, and this year, two, serious injuries. He can’t make it through a full season, period. (And yes, the season is long and grueling (granted, not so much for Rafa in these injury-abbreviated ones, ironically). But…a lot of guys make it through. And Rafa is directly competing with those guys, so him not being able to make it through is a problem. A big problem.) Not being able to make it through seasons, being constantly hampered by injury after injury, getting better from one injury only to be felled by a new one a few weeks or months later…it’s not good. It’s not promising. As much as it almost literally pains me and at the very least causes me to close my eyes and scrunch up my face bracingly when even thinking about it–it’s the kind of thing that happens to guys at the tail-end of their careers. The body rebels; they just can’t stay healthy for any extended period of time. And then it’s over.
Obviously at this point the true severity and ramifications of the wrist injury are unknown. A small detachment of an interior something or other has suddenly become three withdrawals including a lost Major. Is this season-ending? I won’t be surprised if so, and honestly it might be better that way. The fall is a vast wasteland in general in tennis, and even moreso for Rafa, who is partially solar-powered. He doesn’t like indoor tennis, and it shows, in his attitude and play (yes, he generally has a decent showing, but he also consistently eventually gets meekly blown out by often overall lesser players in the later rounds, which is not particularly fun to watch). Moreover, indoor is his worst surface; worst surfaces tend to get worser as a player ages. Rafa’s not going to suddenly become the indoor king at age 28 after struggling with it for 10 years prior. So I don’t see Rafa ever having tremendous success in that part of the season moving forward, and in a way, I almost think he would be better off skipping it (which is going to directly contradict what I’m going to say below, but oh well), because it burns him out and leads, in part, to him showing up in Australia unfit almost every year (One injury? Bad luck. Two injury? Maybe…bad luck? Three injury? There’s something wrong w/ his offseason/preseason training, or lack thereof. There’s no getting around that at his point, and his stubbornness in sticking to his patterns in that regard is yet another problem.)
The way Rafa is talking about the wrist now is startlingly similar, perhaps even identical, to how he talked about his knee in 2012–he’s in pain; he’ll come back when he’s no longer in pain. And so, once again, as I did in ’12, I have to wonder–what if he’s never not in some degree of pain? Is Rafa backing himself into a corner out of which there is no escape? Not wanting to be in pain is understandable. But, is it realistic, for him or any tennis player? Are his expectations too high? Is his pain tolerance too low, or, perhaps more accurately, has he reached his limit of having a high pain tolerance?, which is, once again, completely understandable, but–not necessarily conducive to being a professional tennis player.
Of course, another thing that pricks at the mind when reading these most recent quotes is that as it turned out, Rafa did still have knee pain when he returned in 2013. His goal of not returning until the pain was gone was not realistic, and it was later revealed that his team basically forced him back on the tour and he in fact was quite distraught over the state of his still painful knee during his early days in South America. But, he played. And he won. And eventually, while he was playing, and winning, his knee improved. So obviously one wonders now–is he being too conservative with the wrist? Might it improve while he’s playing? And even if not, what does he have to lose by giving it a try? This is an injury he can control to some degree–he doesn’t have to hit two-handed BHs. He can slice, he can run around, and when that’s not possible–he can let balls go by. Nobody would blame him. Everyone would respect the effort.
But he’s not playing because he doesn’t think he can win, which is probably true. (although–one never knows. He could have gotten a dream draw. He could have gotten walkovers. He could have found himself not playing a top 30 player ’til the second week, when the wrist all of a sudden felt pretty darn good. And it’s not as if injured players have never won big tournaments, after all.) I understand his reasoning; in this particular instance, I don’t agree with it. I think there is some intrinsic value in showing up. I think he’s hurting is reputation and legacy by missing so many important tournaments. I think “I won’t play if I can’t win” is a slightly juvenile attitude, and a dangerous one for Rafa to have as he gets older. I think pulling out of tournaments has become too routine, too casual, too much of a habit for him. I think if he can practice, he can play. (And he’s practicing. And I know in theory this should make me happy, but it’s not, because all I can think is: why in the hell is he hitting some of the best forehands in the world on a court in Mallorca and not in NYC?) I think he hasn’t played a match since July 1 and it’s August 22 and it’s time for him to get out of Mallorca and join his colleagues, many of whom also are nursing injuries, many of whom also are not perfect physically and not not in pain, on the tour. But, I respect his right to make his own decisions. But, I think it’s the wrong one. And, as mentioned above, I do wonder if Rafa is sometimes too conservative, too unwilling to make a go of it, and too willing to say, “I’m not perfect, so I’m not playing.” I just don’t know if he can afford to have that attitude, especially now, at age 28, with opportunities already dwindling as it is. Would Djokovic or Murray or Federer withdraw from the U.S. Open if they had a comparable injury? Would Berdych, Ferrer, or Gasquet? Would Rafa play if it were the French Open? Why was he willing to play Rio and IW with a bad back that affected him on every serve but not willing to play a Major with a bad wrist that he can at least limit the use of? I don’t completely understand the decision making process, although granted I’m not privy to the details of the injury. If he’s out until October, or next year, or ends up getting surgery, okay, then it was obviously unavoidable. If he shows up in three weeks time in Sao Paulo, though, it’s going to be little hard to swallow. I don’t want him to be severely injured, obviously, and I don’t want this to spiral into a ’12 situation, where every other week there’s speculation or even confirmation he might return–for Cincy or Winston Salem or the USO or Asia or the WTFs or Davis Cup or Abu Dhabi or Doha or the AO or maybe he’ll play doubles or maybe he’ll play the Manacor Tennis Club Intramural Championship–only for a barrage of Ws that are not Wins to come down the pike, along with ever-present and increasingly unattainable caveat that he’ll play when he’s not in pain–but I also don’t want this withdrawal to be unnecessary in retrospect, and if he plays Davis Cup on Sept 12, that’s how it’s going to seem.
So, so much for short. I think I nailed the devastated part though.
P.S. Yesterday was the blog’s third Blogiversary! (I know everyone is still recovering from the ragers of ’12 and ’13, so I decided to skip the party this year.) The Internet informs me that third anniversaries are leather anniversaries, or as I typically call it, leatha (“I like your skirt!” “Thanks! It’s leatha.”) Leatha is classic, strong, quality stuff; it can get a little beat up over time, a little scuffed, a little weathered and worn and decrepit, but, it still holds up, the fibers don’t break, and with a little cleaning and/or professional refurbishing, it’s good as new. Here’s hoping for another leatha-like revival by Rafa in the coming year.