Rafael Nadalchampion of 22 Grand Slam tournaments, has lived a career full of successes, paradoxically, always with a sword of Damocles hanging over his head. Always with the threat that his left foot, affected by Müller-Weiss Syndrome, would force him to put an end to his career. What is it about? Is a scaphoid osteochondritis, a degenerative disease of the scaphoid bone in the mid-top of the foot essential for mobility. No cure, at least for the activity of a professional athlete.
already in 2004, in his first year on the circuit, he withdrew from the Estoril tournament in April due to a stress fracture (three months off) in the scaphoid of the left foot. But on October 23 2005 in Madrid, in the final of the Masters 1,000 in which he came back two sets to Ivan Ljubicic, all the alarms went off. He won his eleventh title of the year, but the problem got worse. The “lump” (he has that deformed foot area and that’s what he called it) seemed to have been split in two. He traveled to the Shanghai Masters but was unable to play it.
It was that Nadal, always ready for battle and hand-to-hand exchange, who Agassi defined very well: “Nadal is signing checks that his body will not be able to pay.” His team decided to travel to Nike headquarters in the United States in January 2006 (he didn’t play in Australia) and came with some special insoles and custom-made shoes to mitigate this problem, which together with pronation (the foot leans inwards) began to plague him.
A 42 STAND
The Balearic measures 1.85 and is about 90 kg in weight, but he only wears a 42, so the ‘platform’ that supports his body is small. According to specialists in biomechanics, the foot ailment is what could have caused the recurring problems of tendinitis in the knees that have kept him unemployed for so longsince it has been modifying its natural supports. In 2010 he put himself in the hands of Dr. Mikel Sanchez and treatments with growth factors (infiltrations of his own enriched plasma) helped him improve.
In the 2007 Masters, Nadal only played a three-set match (against Ferrer and lost) and ended up with a contorted face. “I’m a better tennis player, but I can’t run. I swim, I run in the pool to gain depth, I row, bike, elliptical… That shows, I have to get physical as I play matches”, he admitted in an interview in Shanghai. Your uncle Toni went further: “Rafa’s problem is serious, very serious.” “I don’t know, let the doctor decide”, came to answer his then technician when asked about the future.
But Nadal, a Stakhanovite with a very powerful mind, He has known how to adapt his game to mitigate the suffering: less counterattack in the run, short steps, more aggressiveness to avoid long points, improvements with the serve… A survival exercise that, at the same time, has made him a tennis player with more resources.
But last year, the pain became more intense. In the semifinal that he lost in Paris against Novak Djokovic, he asked to change the bandage that holds that area of the foot. “My scaphoid is crushed in half. It swells up and hurts. It was already unbearable and that’s why I asked for another bandage, “she clarified. He stopped, he returned to Washington 55 days later, but the feeling was not good. “For me the most important thing is to enjoy playing. And with this pain you can’t enjoy it”, sentenced then. Then, she was already thinking about withdrawing. But his team encouraged him to continue. In September he decided to undergo a “slightly more aggressive” treatment (he was seen on crutches) in Barcelona.
“We are going to the fullest and if I break, I break,” he told his team, as revealed by his coach Carlos Moyá. He came to Australia and won. Another miracle. “I have the scaphoid split in half, it is a problem without a solution”, he made it clear there. “A month and a half ago, I didn’t know if I would play tennis professionally again,” he confessed. “He has always had problems with his foot, but until now it only affected him in training and at specific times. But there came a point where he had them more frequently. Not only in training, but also in games,” Moyá said.
Then came the crack in the ribs. And another break that did not sit well with him. Before arriving in Paris, all the red lights went off in Rome. In front of Shapovalov the pain became unbearable. He looked totally lame. “I’m not injured, I live with an injury,” he clarified.
He did not doubt that he would go to Roland Garros. Of course, with his doctor, Ángel Ruiz-Cotorro, next to him. Continuous treatment (with injections and local anesthesia) has allowed him to play. But abuse also hurts. Hence the hint that it could be his “last” Roland Garros. Nadal has the pain, and his health in the future, on one side of the scale that weighs more and more.