You read it here first:
Rafa Nadal, the greatest clay court tennis player in history — and one of the greatest ever, period — will retire from tennis sometime during 2012.
Here’s what he said, just today, in discussing his preparation for Davis Cup (which at this point seems like an experiment on the players’ bodies, a torturous coda to a season that will never end):
“[M]ore than a lack of passion, it is a weariness from many years of playing at this level, week after week.”
Just tired because it’s the end of the year? No. Here’s what he said earlier this year, right in the middle of the French Open, which he’d then won five times:
“It’s my ninth year on the tour, and its completely the same feeling every year. You don’t have the chance to stop, never. I think for that situation we have a shorter career. So having a different model of ranking, of competition, I think we can have longer career, no? I [am] almost 25, but seems like I am playing for 100 years here on the tour. I didn’t spend a weekend at home since the week of Davis Cup before Indian Wells. That’s too much. Tennis is a very demanding sport mentally and physically. I won Roland Garros five times, but next Monday I am practicing on Queen’s. So that’s makes the career shorter for everybody.”
“We have four Grand Slams, we have nine Masters 1000, and the year is 12 months. I know that they’re gonna reduce two week but, seriously, is not enough. [We are not ] gonna have these changes for my generation, but hopefully for the next generations to have a better sports life. Because I think you need two months, two months and a half of rest at the end of the season. You have to practice. I never able to practice and to try to improve the things during the off-season, and that’s something I think terrible. Sometimes it’s like work. And, in my opinion, tennis is not work. It’s passion.”
Does this sound like someone who’s going to be around for long?
Borg, another player who had prodigious success at an early age, walked away at age 26 when he lost his single-minded focus, and, coincidentally, when he could no longer defeat John McEnroe. Now Nadal, age 25, has been thoroughly thrashed by Novak Djokovic all year (0-6, all in finals) and just got hammered at the WTF (World Tour Finals; get your mind out of the gutter) — 6-3, 6-0 — by that other guy in the top three. Federer was as up, and relentless, as Nadal was down, and despondent. With the possible exception of Serena Williams (who has taken some long breaks from the tour), I’ve never seen anyone so hard-working or passionate about tennis as Nadal. And that can’t last forever.
Rafa’s light is blinking red. He’ll be gone within a year. It’s easy to blame the length of the season (let’s!), but I just think that his style of play isn’t suited to a long career. I’m hope I’m wrong, but I doubt that I am.