World No. 1 Rafael Nadal has urged officials of the ATP tour to examine the slew of injuries ravaging the men’s game at the moment after he was forced to retire during the fifth set of his Australian Open quarter-final against Marin Cilic on Tuesday.
Nadal, who had pulled out of the ATP Finals after his first match last November to deal with a knee injury, delayed his start to the 2018 season – skipping an exhibition in Abu Dhabi and the Brisbane International – in efforts to be ready for the Australian Open in Melbourne.
He is just one of a host of players dealing with physical problems. Novak Djokovic missed six months of action due to an elbow injury, which is yet to heal and affected him during his fourth round loss to Chung Hyeon on Monday. Andy Murray just had hip surgery, also following a six-month absence, while Stan Wawrinka missed the same amount of time due to double-knee surgery.
Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori are others who spent time away from the game with injuries and there are countless other examples.
“Somebody who is running the tour should think little bit about what’s going on. Too many people getting injured,” said Nadal, who has been struck by injuries more than most of his fellow top players throughout his career.
“I don’t know if they have to think a little bit about the health of the players. Not for now that we are playing, but there is life after tennis. I don’t know if we keep playing in this very, very hard surfaces what’s going to happen in the future with our lives.”
The tennis season runs from January to November and while players have spent years complaining about the length of the calendar, no significant changes have been made. In the past, Murray and Nadal both have backed the idea of having less mandatory tournaments, which would allow players to be more flexible with their schedules.
Less mandatory events…
— Andy Murray (@andy_murray) January 20, 2018
Roberto Bautista Agut, a former world No. 13 now ranked 21, agrees with Nadal’s views, and believes the tour must intervene to limit the number of injuries. He believes it won’t just benefit the players, but the tour itself.
“I think ATP should do something with the schedule. They would get more quality tournaments, more quality matches, if they would start thinking more of the players,” said the Spaniard during the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi last month.
“I’m not the one who knows exactly what they can do but of course they should discuss with the players and try to find a solution and I think it’s going to be better for all of us and also for the ATP.”
Cilic doesn’t necessarily share Nadal and Bautista Agut’s opinions. He believes cutting down on tournaments would hurt the tour.
“The calendar is there for so many years. Just in this last year, obviously beginning of this one, we see a lot of top guys that are injured. In the end it’s on all of us to try to take care of our bodies, to try to pick the right schedule, to listen to our body, how it feels,” said the Croatian.
“I completely understand there are a lot of tournaments that we play, mandatory tournaments. In my own perspective, we are all picking our own schedule.
“It’s tough to say, Okay, we going to take out two months of the season, cut that many tournaments, because tennis is such a global sport. Everywhere we play people enjoy it. I think tennis is getting more and more popular, which we really want also.”
Nadal said he felt pain in his upper right leg during the fourth set against Cilic and is unsure exactly what the injury is. He said it was not the knee though, which is what kept him out of action end of last year.
The top seed could not hide his disappointment and said he felt it was a missed opportunity. He was gunning for a 17th Grand Slam trophy this fortnight.
“Tough moments. Is not the first time an opportunity that is gone for me. I am a positive person, and I can be positive, but today is an opportunity lost to be in the semi-finals of a Grand Slam and fight for an important title for me, no?” Nadal told reporters after his quarter-final on Tuesday.
“In this tournament already happened a couple of times in my life, so it’s really I don’t want to say frustration, but is really tough to accept, especially after a tough December that I had without having a chance to start in Abu Dhabi and then Brisbane.
“Yeah, I worked hard to be here. We did all the things that we believed were the right things to do to be ready…
“Yeah, I was playing a match that anything could happen: could win, could lose. I’m being honest. He was playing good, too. That’s the real thing.
“But I was fighting for it. I was two sets to one up. Yeah, just accept, recover, come back home, stay with my people, and keep going. That’s all.
“It’s a negative thing, but I don’t going to complain because happened to me more than others. But on other hand I was winning more than almost anyone. That’s the real thing. But who knows, if I didn’t have all these injuries…”
This isn’t the first time injury has bothered Nadal in Melbourne. He hurt his back during the 2014 final he lost to Wawrinka, he sustained a hamstring injury during his defeat to David Ferrer in the quarter-finals in 2011 and he retired from his last-eight clash with Murray the year before with a knee problem.