Rafael Nadal’s Knee Injury Problems Keep Sport Guessing

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Rafael Nadal is likely to miss the 2012 season due to his knee injury problems. He will extend his break from the sport as he continues to recuperate from a knee injury and in many ways it feels the same when a popular T.V. show is off the air for a while before its scheduled return next season. Before the airing of the new season’s premiere where many unanswered questions from the last season’s climatic cliffhanger will be solved, there’s often a lot of hype, a lot of rumors and a lot of just plain nonsense spouted from official and unofficial sources while eager fans pour over and dissect every new bit of information as they try to glean what is in store for next year.

And that’s what in many ways is happening right now with Nadal who this week took part in a conference call to promote his participation in the BNP Paribas Showdown at Madison Square Garden this upcoming March in New York. Despite still not giving a definite return date either this year or next to the ATP Tour, Nadal, when asked about his rehabilitation, gave a not entirely unexpected upbeat answer.

“I’m working hard every day to recover as quick as possible,” Nadal said. “I am feeling a little bit better now than the first couple of months. I feel the last couple of weeks I can feel the improvement in my knee. It feels very different now. The groove on my knee is something that I really can feel and it’s something that helped a lot of me to keep working hard, to keep doing everyday what I have to do. Today, at the moment, I am working to try to come back to practice in the tennis court for not very long periods of time.”

While Nadal’s recent statements about his knee are certainly encouraging, it may be that his frequent photo posts on his Facebook page may even get more scrutiny as many try to decipher what exactly the Spaniard is doing in rehab and how is it helping him. From photos of him swimming in the sea while others show him hard at work on an exercise bike or stretching at a gym, they often show Nadal smiling as if he’s enjoying a vacation rather than trying to grind his way back to 100% shape. There’s even one of him washing a car while shirtless, and though I’m not sure if it qualifies as rehab, it’s likely to be Nadal’s most popular photo to date.

But try to pin down Nadal on when he will return and you end up with the very non-committal answer like the one he gave during his conference call.

“I wouldn’t know. That’s something I will know when my knee is completely without pain. When I start to practice and I am at long periods of time outside of the tennis court without competitions. I can imagine that when I come back on the tennis court, I will make period of time at practice to start slow and to improve and do more and more everyday.”

While it’s understandable that Nadal will want to take as much time as possible to heal and be in his best shape, what’s not been understandable is the exact issue he is suffering with and what is his overall plan to remedy it. Before he pulled out of the Summer Olympics, Nadal’s issue was first described as tendonitis. Then in early September, the 7 time Roland Garros champion sent out a message on Twitter saying that his injury was a combination of a partial tear of the patella tendon and inflammation of the Hoffa’s pad near his left kneecap. We still aren’t sure if this is a new injury, an old injury or a combination of both nor are we really sure of the full treatment that Nadal is undergoing. Not that we should expect to know the full details of any of these things, but it’s this lack of certainty and concrete specifics for some that has added a bit of unnecessary intrigue around Nadal in the last few months.

Nadal himself may be in no rush to return to competitive action, but that hasn’t stopped tournament organizers from proclaiming that their event will be the one where at Nadal will make his long awaited return. Australian Open Tournament Director Craig Tiley during its pre-launch event was happy to announce that Nadal had sent him a text message saying that Melbourne would be the Spanish star’s first event of January 2013. But then only a few days later, news spread that Nadal was planning to compete at the lucrative warm-up event in Doha just weeks before the first Grand Slam of the year. Both events might get their wish or they might not depending on Nadal’s condition. If we see the Spaniard compete anymore in 2012 is still just as unclear with many sharing the prevailing view Nadal will not appear at the ATP World Tour Finals in London but will somehow make an effort to play for Spain in the Davis Cup final against the Czech Republic. We simply don’t know and it’s likely Rafa won’t either until the very last minute.

The tour is desperate for Nadal to return, but it may be during this time away from the sport that he reflects on how much he really needs the tour himself and how much longer he wants to play. Some have suggested the king of clay, whenever he returns, will play less events than in the past or even alter his schedule to prevent another near-career ending injury. Nadal recently said that he plans to play until the Olympic Games in 2016 so it could be that he will take as much time as he needs to be ready for the last stage of his career even if it means prolonging his fans’ disappointment in the short-term.

While Nadal’s return to the sport will be welcome news, in the meantime, we’ll just have to be patient and continue to sift through all the positive statements he makes and the many encouraging photos taken of him during his hiatus. Whatever happens, this is one cliffhanger that may well keep audiences worldwide on the edge of their seats long into next year.

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