On Nov. 23, Rafael Nadal announced that he will make his long-awaited comeback to tennis at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in the first week of 2013. The Spaniard has been sidelined for nearly six months because of a chronic knee injury and hasn’t played
a match since his stunning second-round loss against Lukas Rosol in last summer’s Wimbledon.
Many have written 26-year old Nadal off, claiming that his constant injuries will prevent him from winning anymore on tennis’s biggest stages. In addition, critics contest that Nadal has found his kryptonite in Novak Djokovic, citing the string of losses Nadal racked up against the Djokovic in 2011 and concluding that he will never be able to win a Grand Slam again.
Despite his physical issues, Nadal must be considered as a serious threat on the Association of Tennis Professionals World Tour. If he has proven anything with his relentless and brutal playing style over the years, it is that he is a warrior. He has played through injuries many times before, still sprinting to every ball and pulling off incredible winners from well behind the baseline. He reached the semifinals of the 2009 French Open with severe tendonitis and managed to go the distance in a five-set thriller this year at Wimbledon against Rosol — all while playing with a bad knee.
It is very likely that Nadal will suffer more injuries throughout his career, but history has shown that he can win on any stage even with physical impediments. It will take some time, but he will regain his form in 2013. He will continue to trouble Roger Federer, whose one-handed backhand often breaks down against the Spaniard’s heavy topspin. Despite his multiple losses against Djokovic this season, Nadal has a definite chance of defeating the Serb if he can mentally fortify himself and maintain his confidence. Nadal has proven that is he a clutch player by hitting huge shots in huge moments, and if he keeps himself focused mentally, he can outplay anyone despite his knee.
Nadal’s chances of winning the Australian Open are slim, as he will only have a couple of weeks of match-play experience before the first Grand Slam of the year in mid-January. By the time the clay court season comes around, however, he should be in shape and ready to win. Undoubtedly the greatest clay-court player tennis has ever seen, Nadal can very possibly win the French Open and add a few more Masters 1000 Series Trophies to his collection in Monte Carlo and Rome. Enough momentum can give him a legitimate shot at Wimbledon, where he is a two-time champion. His prospects at the U.S. Open, the final Slam of the season, are low given the effect of grueling hard court play on his knees. If Nadal can better his mental game to pre-2011 standards and keep his knees strong, he can be a Grand Slam champion in 2013.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Dec. 11 print edition. Karthik Ramakrishnan is a staff writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.