What is it about Rafael Nadal, injuries and the Australian Open? Difficult to explain, probably impossible to comprehend. The sad thing about his back problems suddenly showing up were that they almost took away the significance and prestige of victory from Stanislas Wawrinka, who was putting on a wonderful show of Tennis before Nadal started feeling back pain in the Australian Open Final.
Maybe if this was any other tournament or stage, Nadal would have retired. It was hard not to feel the “here he goes again” when Nadal took a too long medical break during the second set. The crowd was booing him when he came back on the court, but that soon changed when it was clear he was having a very hard time playing like he usually does. But that doesn’t take away anything from Wawrinka’s victory, as he was pummeling a stunned Nadal way before the back pains became a factor.
After the match Nadal was close to tears while addressing the fans, thanking them for their support during the two weeks. It was obvious it took a lot out of him to carry on playing, even winning a set in the third before finally surrendering. He didn’t move like he usually does, didn’t hit like always, and didn’t serve like always. He looked bad when he was healthy, worse when the injury was too much for him to overcome; he still finished the match.
But there’s something about Nadal that helps him fall into the villain image, at least to those who don’t support him, and as much as you can have a “bad guy” in Tennis. Sometimes it’s more than being the rival to Federer not just on the court but also in style and in arguments that have to do with organizational and association issues. It seems that whenver Nadal loses a big match an injury “just had” to get in the way; sometimes he just doesn’t play all that well, and certain players are tough matchups for him. There’s no shame in admitting that.
Nadal didn’t play in the 2013 Aussie Open because of his knees. He didn’t make it through the quarterfinals in 2010 and 2011 because of injuries, but also because he simply wasn’t good enough. In the story of the egg and the chicken, it does seem like the injuries and disappointing ability at times go hand in hand, but one can’t help but wonder if it’s not always the failures that come due to the injuries, but pain that comes out of nowhere when things get tough, and they exist so to soften the blow and criticism of the loss.