Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Nadal fed up with nada

This could be year he finally wins title that's eluded him

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Just because he hasn't doesn't mean he can't. But what Rafael Nadal faces at this year's U.S. Open is the ongoing skepticism that his hard-driving style, already responsible for eight major tournament titles at 24, ultimately works against him at Flushing Meadows like no other Grand Slam event.

In seven previous tries, his best Open results have been two semifinals -- the past two years. Though Nadal has won each of the other three majors, on the three different surfaces of the Australian and French Opens and Wimbledon, the accepted wisdom continues to hold that the U.S. punishing hardcourts, the Open's late date in a full calendar of global events and Nadal's stringent physical demands on himself combine to break him down as much as his normally threatened opponents.

Nadal repeatedly enters the Open not only with a collection of greatest tennis hits -- seven consecutive years with at least one of the year's Grand Slam titles already in his pocket -- but also with some nagging injury. (Usually, his battered knees.)

So the subject in late August never changes, leaving Nadal to gamely deal with another wearying matter -- questions about his health. "I feel perfect," he told reporters in Toronto. "Thank you."

Old champ John McEnroe, these days as opinionated a commentator as he was a player, recently called Nadal the "test case" for what McEnroe believes is a too-compact Grand Slam schedule. McEnroe long has called for giving players more recovery time between the French, played on clay in early June, and Wimbledon's grass-courts championship that begins later in the month. The subsequent hardcourt season, McEnroe argues, further debilitates anyone's Open chances.

"Maybe something crazy has to take place," McEnroe said, "where the entire top ten is not there for the Open because of injuries, before people step up to do something about it.

"Nadal feels, and a lot of people feel, including myself, that his best chance to win the Open is right now. He's tried to pull back (on his competitive schedule), played enough to have his confidence and be sharp, but also to give his body a break. Sometimes you have seven weeks between Wimbledon and the Open, sometimes eight, and this year it's eight. So this looks like a pretty promising situation for him."

Nadal has played 12 tournaments in 2010 (and won five), down slightly from the 16 he contested leading up to both the 2007 and '08 Opens. He spent a full month away from the pro tour after winning his third Wimbledon and is enjoying, he agreed, "the best moments of my career."

But he also noted that, only months ago, after being bumped from the Australian quarter-finals by Andy Murray and having his ranking slide to No. 4, he was hearing that "I was never going to be another time on the top."

In public interview sessions, he tends to shrug a lot, downplaying both the frustrations and highlights he has experienced. "We will see," he said of his future possibilities, his health, his legacy. Already, he is being compared to 29-year-old Roger Federer -- who has a record 16 major titles but is 2-for-7 against Nadal in Grand Slam finals -- as the best ever.

Of course, just because Nadal can win his first Open this year, doesn't mean he will. But much of the tennis world believes he should.

 

-- Newsday

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 29, 2010 A39

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