The hallmark of Rafael Nadal’s 2016 season will be the enduring images of his celebration with his friend Marc Lopez as they won the doubles gold medal for Spain in Rio, though in retrospect, it’s clear that playing for his country came with a load of personal sacrifice.
On Thursday, Nadal, 30, provided the answer to the question he himself posed after back-to-back losses (Beijing quarterfinal to Grigor Dimitrov, Shanghai second round after a bye to Viktor Troicki) as to whether his 2017 season would be better served to continue to accrue rankings points or shut it down and get back in alignment to hit the ground running in January. He issued the following statement:
Considering that Nadal sped up his timetable so as not to miss another Olympics as the country’s flagbearer like he did in London (knee injury), it’s no surprise that he developed a compensation injury in the wrist.
The 14-time Grand Slam champion had been expected to announce his plans for Basel (next week), Paris-Bercy (the following week) and the World Tour Finals a couple days ago, but he understandably waiting until after the inauguration on Wednesday for his recently-opened tennis academy in Manacor, Mallorca, which was attended by a number of top executives, and most notably, Roger Federer:
— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) October 20, 2016
— Rafa Nadal Academy (@rnadalacademy) October 20, 2016
Nadal finishes 2016 with a 39-14 record. His highest point on the regular tour (no points were awarded for Rio, where he also made the semifinals in singles) was a 13 match winning streak on clay, over which he beat Dominic Thiem, Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray and Gael Monfils for his ninth title at the Masters 1000 in Monte Carlo, then Kei Nishikori in the Barcelona final for his ninth title there as well, matching his own Open Era record as the only player to win nine titles at any event (French Open the other).
The lows? Nadal’s wrist injury that followed that winning streak cost him a chance to get regain his throne in Paris, withdrawing from Roland Garros in the third round. He also missed Wimbledon and took surprising fifth-set losses to peak play from Fernando Verdasco in Australia and Lucas Pouille in New York, resulting in his least successful year at the majors since establishing himself as a teenager. He rebounded from the anxiety he experienced on court in 2015, but the riddle of his now-inconsistent forehand remains to be solved for Nadal and his inner circle over the next couple months.
As for those aforementioned sacrifices, the consequences of Nadal’s recovery are as follows:
-His streak of top-5 seasons ends at 11, tied for second in the Open Era with Ivan Lendl. Only Jimmy Connors (13) posted more. (Roger Federer’s streak ended at 10 after 2013, Novak Djokovic will tally his 10th this season, and Andy Murray his ninth.)
-He will drop a large chunk of points from his 2015 fall campaign (Basel final, Bercy quarters, World Tour Finals semis), putting him on the bottom end of the top 10. His 600 straight weeks in the top 10 is fourth all-time and will be the longest active streak once Federer drops out in a couple weeks.
-That drop in ranking will put him in the 9-12 range most likely for the Australian Open in January, putting him at risk of a tougher draw.
-Though he was highly unlikely to contend at either this year, Bercy and the World Tour Finals are two of the only three top events he has yet to win in his career (Miami is the other). Nadal’s absence in London means Gael Monfils and Dominic Thiem are all but safe for the 8-man field. The door is now open for Tomas Berdych, David Goffin or Marin Cilic to seize the final spot.
It is unknown if Nadal will make either of his usual exhibition appearances this December, the team-format IPTL or to defend his “title” at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi in January. His first ATP tournament back will be at Brisbane in January.
With nearly every major star in the sport derailed by injury at some point this year, not to mention various suspensions and scandals, Nadal ending his 2016 campaign is just the latest development that has tennis fans anxious for the calendar to turn to 2017.