Can Rafael Nadal keep up with an accelerating game?

Rafael Nadal rpess conference Credit: Alamy
Rafael Nadal rpess conference Credit: Alamy

Mats Wilander has opined that Rafael Nadal might struggle to keep up with a game that is getting faster as the 22-time Grand Slam winner feels his age and the impact of playing at a high level for many years.

He said that Nadal still had the mentality and his tactical nouse is at its peak but he believes that the Spaniard will be forced to train less which will limit his mobility.

Wilander also fears that the twilight of Nadal’s career might be marred by injury.

“The game is moving in a direction that is becoming faster and faster all the time,” Wilander told Eurosport.

“And I think you see with Rafa Nadal that he’s been changing his game as much as he can, but you still have to be able to get to the ball in time to make all these changes, to hit the slice backhand, to come to the net a little bit more.

“He’s going to obviously become slower and slower because of age, but also if you can’t practise all the time, you do lose some speed.

“I think the last thing that would ever go away from Rafael Nadal’s game is his actual game. I think hitting the ball, he’s getting better, he’s getting more creative.

“But in terms of the physical part of moving, I think, yes, he’s going to get slower because he’s not able to train as much all the time and he’s getting older.

“So there comes a point when there’s a limit to how much you can do with a tennis ball without being able to move around at close to 100%. And I think that’s going to be his biggest enemy.

“But at the same time, Rafa Nadal keeps coming up with new solutions. Mentally, he’s most probably as strong as ever. Tactically, he’s more clever now, maybe because he’s forced to be more clever.

“I’m worried because he’s getting older… we’ve seen these injuries before and he knows how to come back from them. The question is, at his age, is it getting harder and harder?”

Another issue thrown up by injury woes, is Nadal’s drop out of the top ten which means he might end up receiving a lower seeding at his favourite stomping ground Roland Garros.

“I think it makes a huge difference because if you’re going to an ATP 1000 or the French Open and you know that there is a chance that I might play the No. 1 or No. 2 in the round of 32, that brings on nerves,” continued Wilander.

“And I think for someone like Rafa Nadal, who’s so smart and he’s so good, especially on clay, he wants these matches that he cannot play at 100% in terms of his level [against lower-ranked opponents] but still win to build some confidence.

“And I think when you have a chance to run into the best players in the world after two matches, then suddenly that’s taken away from you.

“Now, on the other hand, if I would be one of the top four players in the world and there is a chance that I might play Rafa Nadal in the third round, oh, my goodness. That’s horrible!

“So, like most people say, it’s easier to beat the best players early in the tournament. For sure.

“But where do you put Rafa Nadal now coming back after injury? One of the best players in the world or a dark horse who’s very dangerous even to the likes of Novak Djokovic or Carlos Alcaraz or the other top players?”

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