Rafael Nadal - Australian Open 2023

Rafael Nadal’s ‘biggest enemy’ revealed by seven-time Grand Slam champion

Rafael Nadal is currently sitting on the sidelines, recovering from a grade two tear to his iliopsoas muscle, and former No.1 Mats Wilander has spoken of what he believes the Spaniard should work on when he returns.

Nadal picked up the injury in a second round defeat to Mackenzie McDonald at the Australian Open, and is expected to return for the clay season in preparation for a 15th Roland Garros title bid.

Wilander, who won the clay major on three occasions, spoke of how Nadal has had to adapt over the years, “The game is moving in a direction that is becoming faster and faster all the time.”

He continued, “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.”

The Swede still backed Nadal’s game to be as strong as ever, but questioned whether his movement would be able to keep up, “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.”

Wilander added, “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.”

Nadal has been inside the ATP top 10 since 2005, but this latest injury means that the Spaniard will fall outside for the first time in 18 years after Indian Wells.

As a consequence, Nadal is likely to have a lower seed for Roland Garros and this is something that concerns Wilander, despite the Spaniard only ever losing three matches at the Paris major.

“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,” said Wilander.

He continued, “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.”

However, Wilander also stated how bad Nadal’s ranking drop could be for the rest of the field, “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!”

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

Nadal has not specified exactly when he will return to the court, but he has been spotted training on the clay at his academy.

“I do not know if it will be Monte-Carlo, I do not know if it will be Barcelona, if it will be Madrid, but I want to play, so when I can be there I will be back right away,” Nadal said recently.

Monte Carlo is the first of those events, so the earliest we could possibly see the 22-time Grand Slam champion is on the 9th April.

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Matthew Johns, Tennishead Writer, is a professional tennis journalist with a specialist degree in Sports Journalism. He's a keen tennis player having represented his local club and University plus he's also a qualified tennis coach. Matthew has a deep knowledge of tennis especially the ATP Tour and thrives on breaking big tennis news stories for Tennishead.