Court Calamity Part 1 : The future of Rafa Nadal

A year ago Nadal was not only absent from the US Open, but was missing from Sport channel lenses since his second round loss at Wimbledon. During his seven-month privation I was due for Surgery midway. Before boarding my flight to the United States I picked up his autobiography hoping to gain insight on his injuries, rigorous training lifestyle and how he managed to overcome adversity and achieve such acrolithic heights. Unfortunately the book ends with his triumphant 2010 US Open capture. His current knee condition and the future of his career were kept under wraps and shrewd in mystery. Although digging up his past encouraged me to adapt a warrior mentality, his current position made the path ahead ambiguous. It didn’t help that the doctor’s diagnosis that my humble career has reached its end just as I was starting to breakthrough.

Rafael Nadal and myself back during Wimbledon 2012. The woman behind me must really think that he is yummy...
Rafael Nadal and myself back during Wimbledon 2012. I’d like to believe that the woman behind me was checking me out (not Nadal)

During my three months of consistent rehabilitation I found it hard to turn on the TV and watch a professional match. Every time I tried to do so, the slow motion replay of players constant sprinting and sudden stops was enough to make me cringe as the cameras zoomed on their leg. Like nails to a blackboard, I felt my knee strain without even being on the court. The doctors were eager to see how my knee would respond after surgery and rehab and I was put on court in early January. Unfortunately my knee-braced appearance encouraged my opponent to deviously exploit my weakness. Almost every return was a dropshot* and thirty minutes later I was wiped off the court, and the knee reeling in complete agony

*dropshot: is when a ball is sliced to fall closer to the net forcing the player to run from the baseline to retrieve that ball. Constantly doing this only aggravated my knee in the process*

My physiotherapy sessions at the Allentown Surgery Center (October 2012)
My physiotherapy sessions at the Allentown Surgery Center (October 2012)

I spent months absent from the gym floor and my ears deprived from the sound of my soles screeching against Bahrain’s finest hard courts. My early morning high-octane drive was curbed; instead of pushing my athleticism and fitness to new limits my physiotherapy routine only made me feel more broken. I had to give antagonizing description of the position and level of pain and endure consistent stretching and pressuring the knee to cooperate rebuild, hopefully to at least reach a point where I don’t have to feel like a button was automatically pressed to ignite pain every time I woke up. My physiotherapist and close friend Rashid is amazing at what he does, and it was never sufficient enough to just tell him ‘ouch it hurts’, there’s more to rehab than just that, and as it turns out there was more to my issue then just surgery and missing cartilage.

Sometimes I had to aggravate the knee further for me to reach any beneficiary result, alongside the fact that every knee responds differently, I was again a human experiment.

With Rashed during physiotherapy. A great friend who has always believed in me and pushes me through all of this.
With Rashed during physiotherapy. A great friend who has always believed in me and pushes me through all of this.

Before his return, everybody questioned Nadal’s integrity, and the King of Clay’s future had a big question mark on it. I cannot deny how amazed I was when he won the French Open earlier this year. The finals took place during my trek across Cappadocia. I enjoyed my recuperation with some Turkish tea as Nadal battled it out on the red dirt. His arsenal was still fully equipped, however what will happen to his tennis once we add hard courts to the equation. Unfortunately for Nadal, we did not have to wait for that. I remember walking up towards the players lounge at this years Wimbledon during lunch, and I noticed that the entire world around me stood still. The media rooms and player rest area was silent and everybody’s eyes were darted towards the nearest monitor. Nadal was a point away from being eliminated from the first round of Wimbledon against #135 Steve Darcis.

And it happened… in straight sets.

I saw the shock amongst the players, the technical team and officials behind the scene. They couldn’t believe what just occurred. It’s not going to get easier, the hard court season was just around the corner. What now for the Spaniard?

Rafael Nadal during his first round to Darcis (Wimbledon 2013)
Rafael Nadal during his first round to Darcis (Wimbledon 2013)

During the Holy month of Ramadan, JC’s tennis academy was holding agility training sessions at night and I was encouraged to lace up my tennis shoes and hit the court. After months of rehab and skepticism I walked across the baseline for the very first time to greet everybody at the benches. Although I got the green light from both my doctor and physiotherapist, the final approval I was waiting for was from my knee. Talking to my tennis inspiration James Blake during his training at Wimbledon is probably what pushed me to try harder to make it back to the courts, himself having knee surgery and telling me to keep going with no regrets. Its funny how my year of constantly searching for answers and examples, ended with just a few sentences from Blake.

That night, I was slow and sluggish on the court, and it wasn’t the fasting or the gluten test I was on..

my knee wasn’t cooperating.

I eventually warmed up and started to return my shots with the fierceness that spent the last year in hibernation. My on court movement issues were only the beginning. My time on court aggravated the knee to the point where I had to unearth post-surgery Vicodin pills to help me go to sleep. I remember this point clearly. I cried myself to sleep, and after seeing my opponents overpower me during a mere practice season, I pronounced my tennis days over.

Two weeks from that date, both Nadal and myself began our hard court seasons. Although we are two different tennis players, in different stages of our career and playing on different spectrums almost a world apart, we remain united in uncertainty and doubt. Two weeks later we proved the world wrong in very different ways.

Rafael Nadal with his French Open Trophy 2013
Rafael Nadal with his French Open Trophy 2013

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this article. I really hope you have enjoyed it. I did leave some parts of my injury and other aspects ambiguous as I would like to tackle them in future articles. However Part 2 will cover the events that took place two weeks later and will be released Sunday October 6th 2013 and is now available to read by clicking here!

I would love to read your comments on what i’ve written. What has amazed you about Nadal’s fight to comeback? Has it encouraged you to push through with your own injuries or tribulations? Even if you do not play tennis, what does this article leave you with? Sound of in the comments box below 🙂

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7 Replies to “Court Calamity Part 1 : The future of Rafa Nadal”

  1. Hi Mohammed. I got here from TT. Sorry to hear about your injury. I actually went back to tennis after having a meniscus surgery that somehow got complicated and solve my knee problems. I used to play in my teens. Wasn’t bad, but not top 20 ranked in Egypt. Stopped in my teens after a car accident that took 6 months for my foot to become normal. At that point, my last high school year, I decided to quit tennis, as I realized that you can’t make it in Egypt with the lack of resources and without totally dedicating yourself to tennis (used to stop playing during exams).

    I didn’t touch a tennis racket for 21 years. However, after my surgery, I spent more and more time watching tennis and eventually decided I will get back as soon as I feel well. I even bought a racket while still doing physio based on my doctor’s 6 weeks and you’ll be fine pre-surgery speech. However, it took 5 months before I even contemplated any sport. It took a year playing with a knee brace, going through an early tennis elbow phase and a lot of injuries (I am not young anymore), but I am still playing. And now a year and a few months after my restart, I love it as much as I used to when I was a teenager. I wish life’s responsibilities were fewer and allowed me more time on the court, but that makes me cherish them all the more. I still wear the knee brace, but I can play now, without having pain in my knee the next two days.

    I know my experience is not very relevant to you, whose career is tennis, but I think if whenever it gets tough you can try remembering why you started and continued playing this game, for the enjoyment it provided, then it can get you through some of the tough times.

    I wish you a speedy return to your level and even improving upon it!

    1. Dear Ayman, I cannot begin to even describe to you the positive energy you sent me. I read your comment during a changeover when I was down 2 breaks, and it pushed me through my match. I am writing an article dedicated to you and that moment and it should be up here soon. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my article and writing me back. Part 2 should be up tomorrow. i cant thank you enough

  2. #Inspirational

    I am obviously not an injuries expert but it seems to be a concrete rule that recovery depends on mental strength as much (if not more!) than physical rehab and it is very inspiring to see guys like you with such “never-say-die-attitude” mind-set.

  3. Hi, Hope your chondromalacia does not annoy you too much and you can still play tennis. Having the same syndrome, I know what you’re going through. Today is not great one for me, as I have been stretching (a lot) yesterday, horse-riding this morning. However, I still enjoy doing my activities but each time the pain comes back with a strong feeling of looseness in the knees (especially the left one). Probably, mental strength can improve your situation but unfortunately, it does not do everything ! Tonight, no golf. Need some rest. Wish you the best in your tennis career…

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