The comeback curse: Why is it all going wrong for the resurfacing stars?
Rafael Nadal and Naomi Osaka are among a catalogue of household names who have made their long-awaited return to the tennis tour in 2024.
There were glimpses of optimism during the opening week of the campaign but since then, their comeback plans have not progressed in the way that was hoped for.
Remember the ‘Netflix curse’ of last season? A calamity of early exits and poor results for those involved in the Break Point documentary.
Well, this year, the comeback curse has landed.
Rafa Nadal’s injury woes stall comeback
Nadal’s absence on the ATP Tour was felt throughout 2023.
For tennis fans far and wide, life on tour is agonising enough without Swiss maestro Roger Federer.
Add an 11-month stint on the sidelines for Nadal to the mix and you are sure to exacerbate the state of affairs.
After an anticipated return to action, the crowds who flocked to the Queensland Tennis Centre in Brisbane this January were not disappointed as they set their eyes on the 22-time major winner. It was as if the 37-year-old had never left.
He glided past 2020 US Open champion Dominic Thiem with ease before despatching Brisbane-born Jason Kubler in clinical fashion, reviving the form that is synonymous with the Nadal of yesteryear.
The bubble was burst, though, in the third round when any chance of a fairytale comeback evaporated into thin air.
The Spaniard blundered three match points en route to defeat to Jordan Thompson, later revealing a ‘micro tear’ in his hip and subsequently withdrawing from the Melbourne grand slam.
It constitutes an additional hurdle in the seemingly limited time he has competing at this level. But for Nadal, there is hope.
Unlike British legend Andy Murray, whose torrid run of form seems to be signalling the beginning of the end of his storybook career, Nadal has shown he is more than capable of competing at the top level.
That is, provided his health holds up.
Naomi Osaka’s parenting priorities
Winning a grand slam in tennis is no easy feat but, over a three year period, Osaka won four.
Shortly after her latest, at the 2021 Australian Open, the Japanese star disclosed that she had been grappling with mental health issues.
As a result, she refused to attend her media duties at the French Open and was subsequently fined $15,000.
Osaka was shedding light on the difficulties that top athletes struggle with – the realities of life on the tennis tour. Yet, she was marginalised even more.
Both WTA and ATP players echoed their support for the then world No.2 who was highlighting an important yet overlooked issue.
Ever since, Osaka was not the same. She was unable to pull a string of matches together like she once could, later revealing her squandering love for the sport.
The announcement of her pregnancy prior to the 2023 season did not come as a huge shock to the tennis world; it indicated a much-needed break.
After 12 months out, and the arrival of her daughter Shai, the 26-year-old former world No.1 felt ready to step foot on the baseline, much to the satisfaction of tennis fans worldwide.
Though things have not gone to plan for the four-time major champion so far. Her level is poles apart from that with which she once graced the court.
Parenting is a refreshing escape from the barmy world of tennis, and will undoubtedly come as a priority for Osaka, but she has not shied away from expressing her desire to reach the top once more – no matter how long it takes.
Emma Raducanu’s stop-start return
Raducanu’s emphatic run to the 2021 US Open is one of the greatest moments to come from sport in recent years.
At just 18 years of age, she become the first qualifier in Open Era history to life a major trophy. Her subsequent journey, however, has been a significantly tougher path to navigate.
Injuries have hampered her performances, that is clear, but critics have also attributed her string of poor form to the pressure that comes with achieving greatness at a young age.
Her latest comeback resumed at the turn of the year after an eight-month hiatus as she recovered from triple surgery – on both wrists and an ankle.
The Brit has since produced promising displays against a varied calibre of opposition. But her return to top-flight tennis has been nothing short of sporadic.
Raducanu’s comeback so far
As her current ranking nears No.300 in the world, Raducanu will have to hope for wildcard entries to tour-level tournaments, but has not dismissed the possibility of returning to the lower leagues in search of a boost of confidence.
Following a bruising defeat to her ‘idol’ Ons Jabeur, it is back to the drawing board for the former world No.10.
In stark contrast to others who are resurfacing, the 21-year-old is still finding her feet on tour and has time on her side.
What about Andy Murray and Dominic Thiem?
The comeback curse also seems to be striking those who have been re-emerging for some time.
Three-time grand slam champion Murray flirted with the idea of retirement in 2019, but has since been on a determined path to disprove his doubters.
Though the Brit might finally succumb this year as his frustration heightens, coinciding with six consecutive defeats.
Despite reaffirming his commitment to the sport and his motivation to succeed, Murray doesn’t seem to be enjoying his tennis.
Similarly, Austrian Thiem finds himself at a crossroads in his fruitful career. Since returning from injury setbacks in 2022, he is a mere shadow of his former self.
Both are deep into their respective comebacks, and the severity of their situations are intensifying.
Regardless of what they decide the next step to be, seeing them suffer is nothing short of heartbreaking for tennis lovers worldwide.
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