He gets knocked down and he gets up again. Those aren’t just the lyrics to Chumbawamba’s 1990s hit ‘Tubthumping’ but a
reference to Rafael Nadal’s constant battle with his own body.
Scattered between the 14 grand slams he’s collected over the past nine years are a stream of injuries suffered by the Spaniard,
each of which has prompted him to launch one successful comeback after the other.
Since his breakthrough French Open victory in 2005, the 28-year-old has been forced to miss five majors as well as the London 2012 Olympics due to injury.
In 2014, he sustained a back problem at the Australian Open in January, injured his right wrist to miss the US Open in August, and ended his season by having an appendectomy in November.
His doctor Angel Ruiz-Cotorro later revealed that Nadal was to receive stem cell treatment on his spine, in an attempt to put his back troubles to rest.
With Nadal set to open his 2015 campaign at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi on Friday, the world awaits
yet another resurgence from the Mallorcan.
“I did a lot of treatment on my back since Australia last year,” Nadal told Sport360.
“Some worked for a few weeks, other ones for a little bit longer… one didn’t work. We always tried to fix the things we need to fix to be competing at 100 per cent.
“In general, the feeling physically is okay and I hope to be ready to compete well in Abu Dhabi and Doha and Australia.”
Nadal’s doctor explained last month that he was about to place stem cells in a joint his spine to regenerate cartilage and produce
an anti-inflammatory effect. And while the world No3 is believed to have received the treatment already, he refused to confirm it or discuss it in any detail.
“To talk about that you have to talk to the doctor. Because I am not ready to talk about these kind of things as I don’t have the whole information,” he explains.
“I had different treatments on my back and I am not able to talk about all of them as I don’t have the information on all of them.
They were done with different doctors and sometimes it worked well and sometimes not. And in the case of my back, it was tough to find the real thing that helped me, and I hope that the last one would be a positive one.”
Nadal concedes that 2014 was a tough year for him, but it is one he still considers a success having captured four titles including a ninth French Open crown, along with an appearance in the Australian Open final.
“It wasn’t a negative season in terms of all results, it was a negative season in terms of mentality because it was hard for me to
accept that I wasn’t able to compete for the whole year,” he adds.
Despite the mental challenge last season posed, Nadal does not allow his physical issues to overwhelm him.
He says: “I’m a very happy guy. I have a great family around me, a lot of friends, and in Mallorca I enjoy the family, friends and I
enjoy the life. I’m not thinking about my injuries every minute.
“I’m thinking about all the positive things and how lucky I am to be where I am and all the things that life gives me. Many people are in a much more negative condition than me. So I’m happy and I can just say thanks to life for all it’s given me.”
One more thing life can give him in 2015 is a mind-boggling 10th French Open title.
Nadal’s nine triumphs at Roland Garros is already a record, but there’s no denying that reaching double digits at a single event in singles is a special feat – one that no man has ever achieved and which only one woman, Margaret Court, has managed to accomplish (she won 11 Australian Opens in the ‘60s and ‘70s) in the history of the sport.
But chasing history does not appear to be on Nadal’s priority list.
“For me the 10th isn’t more important than the ninth, than the eighth, than the seventh or than the sixth. Seriously no. It doesn’t matter. Nine is a great number. I love the number nine. It’s not a pressure for me to try and win the 10th. I don’t see this extra
pressure for the 10th,” he asserts.
He also sees the recent maiden grand slam victories of Marin Cilic and Stan Wawrinka, along with the rise of players like Milos
Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov, as a natural and inevitable process.
— Nike Tennis (@NikeTennis) December 10, 2014
Last year saw some new faces reach the finals of the bigger tournaments and many feel that 2015 season could be the most competitive in recent years.
“It’s always been competitive but the real thing is that Roger (Federer) is 33, I’m 28, Novak (Djokovic) is 27, Andy (Murray) is 27,
so we’re not going to be here forever,” Nadal said.
“The new generation wants to win tournaments too and that’s the real thing. It’s natural. During all these years in the history
of tennis, the same thing has happened. Nobody is there forever.”
While the rivals he has mentioned have all added to their teams ex-champions in the form of new coaches over the past few seasons (Murray hired Ivan Lendl then Amelie Mauresmo, Federer is working with Stefan Edberg while Djokovic has Boris Becker) Nadal has stuck to his familiar formula, being coached by his uncle Toni.
Asked if he sees himself making any changes in the near future, especially with Toni spending more and more time coaching his
own children, Nadal said: “I never changed anything in my team during the whole of my career and that’s going to be the case for the next couple of years probably.”
And his biggest goal for 2015? “To be happy,” he quickly responds. “I have much more than I ever dreamed to have in terms of career, in terms of life. Tennis is a very crucial part of my life today but life is much more important than tennis in general.”
On why he keeps coming back to MWTC
"It’s the perfect place to start the season. It guarantees that I’ll play two matches and that’s important for me and I’ll see if that year can start, after a long time without competing, can start well and I’m sure that these two matches in Abu Dhabi will be very positive for my preparation."
On what he would borrow from his fellow MWTC players
Novak Djokovic – Backhand
Stan Wawrinka – The powerful shots, and backhand
Andy Murray – The control of the ball
Feliciano Lopez – Serve
Nicolas Almagro – Backhand
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Andy Murray conceded his humiliating exit from the ATP Tour Finals was a suitably downbeat way to end one of the most difficult years of his career.
Murray's hopes of salvaging a frustrating campaign by winning the prestigious season-ending event for the first time were shattered as Roger Federer thrashed the Scot 6-0, 6-1 to hand him the joint worst defeat of his career.
The 27-year-old's second defeat from his three group matches was more than enough to condemn him to a premature exit from London's O2 Arena and bring the curtain down on an 11-month tale of woe.
Only once before, against Novak Djokovic in Miami in 2007, had Murray taken such a beating, and on that occasion he had the excuse of being less than 100 percent fit.
To his credit, Murray refused to play the blame game after being blown away in 56 minutes by Federer.
"It's very disappointing. I would have hoped to have done a lot better but when he's extremely loose like he was tonight he was able to try some shots he might not in other situations. Everything he tried came off. He has the ability to do that," Murray said.
"After tonight it's quite clear I'm quite a long way from that level. I won't be able to tell you if it's affected my confidence until I start the new year. But it's not a nice way to finish the year.
"I know I'm going to have to put a lot of work on the tennis court, a lot of work on my game, if I want to start the season with an opportunity to win in Australia."
An emotional season had clearly taken its toll on Murray.
He had battled a longer than expected recovery from last year's back surgery, suffered a surprise split with coach Ivan Lendl, then controversially hired former women's number one Amelie Mauresmo, lost his Wimbledon title in tame fashion and briefly fell out of the top 10 for the first time in six years.
Even after winning three low-key tournaments in the last six weeks in a successful bid to qualify for the Tour Finals, he still finished the year without a win against Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
He knows that record will have to improve dramatically if 2015 is to be more fulfilling.
"The first three or four months were hard. Going through surgery isn't easy. Maybe I didn't appreciate that so much at the time. I found it quite frustrating at the beginning of the year," Murray said.
"Obviously in the middle of that period I switched coaches and stopped working with Ivan. It was a difficult time.
"Then after that I had a couple of tough losses at the French Open and Wimbledon when I didn't play well. Tonight is another example of that.
"Mixed in with those matches was some good tennis. The last six weeks were good but yeah it's been a hard year."
The pain of being embarrassed by Federer on home ground will linger throughout the off-season and Murray, who failed to reach a Grand Slam final this year, made it clear he is determined to use that angst to fuel his bid to return to peak form.
"I'm not going to try and forget about it. When I think about what happened I'll try and use it positively, as motivation for the off-season, to make some changes to things," he said.
"I would normally take a break now but I also need time to work on things. I'll try to get back on the practice court sooner than I would have done.
"A lot can change in tennis in a matter of weeks and months.
"I'm not happy to finish the year with that result but over five sets I tend to play better tennis and I hope come Australia I'm a much better player."
Venus Williams will play Alize Cornet in the final of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships after the world number 26 from France secured a hugely impressive straight-set victory over Serena Williams.
Eariler in the day Venus had booked her place in the final with a 6-3 6-2 win over Caroline Wozniacki, in which she dominated the former world number one from Denmark from start to finish with her heavier, and sometimes cleverly angled, driving.
"To come into a tournament with such a strong draw and to play a former number one now and get through is a wonderful result," said Venus.
The doubts have been whether Venus, who still battles against the side effects of an immune deficiency, has regained the endurance to produce back-to-back wins, and, although she has yet to be taken to three sets, the evidence is hopeful.
She made the ideal start, breaking Wozniacki's serve in the first game, and consolidating it with a hold, despite having trouble landing her first delivery as often as she might have liked.
But breaks of serve became commonplace, and the match often hinged on who could get the best blow in first in the rallies, something which Venus still very well equipped to do.
Wozniacki, who has been in good form herself this week at a tournament she has won before, lacked consistency on the forehand wing early on, and was twice unable to snatch game points which might have placed more score pressure upon her free-hitting opponent.
Twice her father coach Piotr came on court to offer some of his demonstrative advice, but it did not halt the direction of the match.
This accelerated after Venus had clinched the first set after a game of three deuces by punishing her opponent's second serve.
She then took the first three games of the second set and the end soon came with a flurry of typically fierce drives which Wozniacki could not contain.
There had been the chance that Venus could play her sister for the first time since 2009 when they met in Doha but Cornet was in superb form as she secured a 6-4 6-4 win over Serena.
The American world number one struggled throughout, failing to make inroads into the Cornet serve and producing some uncharacteristic unforced errors.
Cornet played one of the matches of her life as she took the first set with ease before nerves appeared to get the best of her in the second as Serena threatened to force her way back into the match.
Serena was serving to stay in the match at 3-5 and somehow managed to save three match points before eventually coming through and forcing Cornet to serve for the win.
However, yet more unforced errors and some superb serving from Cornet saw her complete a memorable victory in 84 minutes.