Rafael Nadal is coming back at the Australian Open! No, wait, sorry about that.
He's returning to the tour in Acapulco! Oh, hang on a second...
Rafa is playing in Sao Paulo! No! Seriously?
The King of Clay is making his comeback in Viña del Mar!
Like the fabled "Boy Who Cried Wolf," Rafael Nadal’s ever-changing status updates have left me confused and, for the first time since his shocking loss to Lukas Rosol at Wimbledon, disinterested. Instead of hanging on every word coming from the Nadal camp, I’m resigned to the fact that everyone’s favorite lefty Spaniard will be back eventually. Probably. I think.
Of course, I felt much the same way about Serena Williams’ delayed return after a year-long absence from the tour. But, health issues or not, a lengthy break from competition was not so unusual for Williams. She’s just as likely to be attending a Kardashian wedding, hawking her wares on the Home Shopping Network, or painting Oprah’s nails as she is to be playing tennis. The game has never appeared to be her top priority (unless she’s on-site at a Grand Slam). Then again, Serena and Rafa are two very different athletes.
To the outsider, Nadal seemed to live and breathe tennis. He could win matches with one hand tied behind his back. He took light 10-mile jogs after four-hour practices. Heck, he won the French Open last year with only one good knee. He was invincible or, at least, that’s how we imagined him to be. Then he pulled out of the Australian Open 18 days early with a stomach virus. And with that, public opinion shifted. Even the most ardent Nadal supporters started to wonder what exactly was going on behind the scenes.
While there’s no doubt much more to the story than what has been explained to the press, there is one thing we now know for sure: Rafa could use a public relations consultant. Reports from Nadal’s “people” have been frequent - and inconsistent - since that last loss in June, which has done nothing to quell ever-present doping rumors. The fact that steroid use is a well-documented predisposing factor for tears in the patella tendon is not doing him any favors either.
In the latest "official" update on Nadal’s knee, Spanish Tennis Federation doctor Angel Ruiz-Cotorro gave us this ambiguous nugget:
"The tests confirm that Rafa's recovery is proceeding favorably. Medically speaking we are in the final stages, and the results were very satisfactory, and the return to the circuit is expected to proceed according to plan."
Rafa himself recently admitted that his troublesome left knee is still sore. While no one knows what that means for the remainder of the 26-year-old's career, I do sincerely hope to see Nadal back on his beloved red clay come February 4. I think we all can agree that it’s much more enjoyable to talk about his play than his return date. But until then, he’ll be the boy who cried "Viña del Mar.
(Photo Credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve)