Rafael Nadal, together with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, has been the most dominant tennis player during the past decade. His epic rivalry with Federer and Djokovic has produced some of the most memorable tennis matches of all time.
Despite his success during the last ten years, Nadal has had a less-than-stellar 2016 season, winning a single Masters 1000 title and failing to reach a single Grand Slam quarterfinal, for the first time since 2004.
Signs of Decline
Nadal won his last Grand Slam trophy more than two years ago, beating his great rival Novak Djokovic in the final. Since then, Nadal’s career has gone downhill, as he struggled to recover from injuries that prevented him from rediscovering his true form.
Following an appendicitis surgery in 2014, Nadal returned to court with hopes of reaching his old level of play, but the 2015 season proved to be a series of disappointments for Nadal. Once unbeatable on his favorite surface, Nadal did not win a single clay court Masters title, and suffered his second-ever defeat in Roland Garros, falling to Djokovic in straight sets.
Nadal slightly recovered at the end of the season, finishing the year as number 5 in ATP World Tour rankings.
Despite good results at the end of 2015, the new season brought another disappointment for Nadal fans. The Spaniard was beaten by his compatriot, Fernando Verdasco in Australian Open; his second first-round exit at a Grand Slam.
Known for his rare and unmatched fighting spirit, Nadal moved on to his beloved clay, claiming his 28th Masters title and equaling Guillermo Villas’ all-time record of 49 clay court titles.
Continued Battle With Injuries
Rafa’s illustrious career has been marked by serious injuries, which have arguably prevented him from breaking Roger Federer’s all-time record of 17 Grand Slam titles. 2016 was no exception. Just as it seemed that Nadal has recovered, a wrist injury forced him to pull out of French Open and miss Wimbledon.
Nadal briefly shined at Rio Olympics, winning a Gold Medal in Doubles with his friend and Davis Cup colleague, Marc Lopez.
An Uncertain Future
Without any doubt, Nadal has demonstrated a remarkable will to overcome his injury problems. His comeback in 2013 resulted in one of the best tennis seasons of all-time. Nadal’s passion for tennis, his unique playing style and unbending commitment to sport have turned him into an icon. Nobody doubts Nadal’s will to keep coming back stronger than ever, but injuries have left their mark on the Spaniard.
After a poor performance at the end of 2016 season, Nadal announced that he needs more to time to recover and set his comeback at the beginning of 2017.
I won’t be able to compete either in Paris-Bercy, where the crowds and the FFT staff have always treated me so well. Now it is time to rest and start preparing intensively the 2017 season.
The new season will be a major challenge for Nadal. With his main rivals, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic dominating the courts, Nadal will have a tough time climbing back to the top of the ATP rankings.
The King of Clay does not lack in competitive spirit, and the 2017 season may yet be another chance for him to return to tennis greatness.