Nadal's return can't come quickly enough
By Will Swanton ,AFPMELBOURNE -- Rafael Nadal was taking nothing for granted. Asked at last year's French Open if he expected injury to derail his career, the 11-time major champion replied: “It's impossible to predict the future, no?”
January 17, 2013, 12:03 am TWN
If the Spaniard seemed unnecessarily pessimistic, subsequent events have borne him out.
After winning his seventh title at Roland Garros, Nadal played only four more matches in 2012: two at Halle, and two at Wimbledon. Since his shock second-round loss to Lukas Rosol at The All England Club in June, he has been unsighted.
With his comeback from his knee injury now set for February 11 at San Paolo, Brazil, Nadal's return to the tour cannot come quickly enough.
“Never would I think that Wimbledon was going to be the last time we see him for so long,” Rosol told AFP at the Australian Open.
Nadal will be welcomed with equal fervor by peers, fans and tournament directors. Without the respected, entertaining and popular Nadal, the men's draw at Melbourne Park is struggling to ignite in his absence.
“I think he was 100-percent healthy the day I played him,” Rosol said. “Something happened after that. I still just try to concentrate on myself. I don't really miss him, you know?”
Rosol is in the minority. Elsewhere, Nadal is sorely missed, including at the Australian Open, where the top half of the draw is lopsided without him.
While 17-time major champion Roger Federer and U.S. Open conqueror Andy Murray are on a collision course for the semifinals, world number one Novak Djokovic's section is a black hole by comparison.
Spain's David Ferrer is the fourth seed in Nadal's absence and for all his hard-working attributes, the 30-year-old is less than a major drawcard for the public.
On Wednesday, when Nadal would normally have been a headline act on Rod Laver Arena, organizers were left scrambling for feature matches, settling on fifth-seeded Czech Tomas Berdych versus Frenchman Guillaume Rufin.
“It is definitely a loss for the tournament, for tennis, for sport in general,” Djokovic acknowledged. “It's been, what, seven months since he played his last official match?
“I know him really well. He is a year old then me. We grew up together in a way. I know that he's a great competitor, somebody that never gives up, fights till the last moment. And he loves this sport.
“I'm sure if he was ready to play this tournament — best-of-five in the Australian summer, that can be brutal and difficult to play — then he would have come. I wish him a speedy recovery.”
Nadal's return at San Paolo will be accompanied by questions about how long it will take him to return to his indomitable best — or whether, in fact, the seven-time and reigning French Open champion is already past his peak at 26.
Undoubtedly his focus is on defending his clay-court crown at Roland Garros in May, and the tennis world will be hoping he can remain fit and competitive for many more Grand Slam tournaments to come.