Another great article by Juan José Mateo on elpais.com. The following translation was done by nou.amic for vamosbrigade.com.
Transformed by his knee"He's adapted to not putting so much trust in his legs," says Toni Nadal, before Indian Wells
Juan José Mateo Madrid 4 MAR 2013
When last night, at the mythical Madison Square Garden, Rafael Nadal came out to play an exhibition to prepare him for the Indian Wells Masters 1000 (his first tournament on outdoor hardcourt in a year), Toni Nadal, his uncle and coach, had already remembered a conversation that took place during the seven months the eleven-time Grand Slam champion was sidelined.
"Mats Wilander says it'll be difficult for Rafael to reach the level he had before the injury," Toni was informed by a journalist.
"I hope he's mistaken," replied the coach, who has always admired the Swedish ex champion. "If his body responds, logic makes me think Rafael will maintain his former level."
However, when Nadal makes his debut in Indian Wells on Saturday or Sunday spurred on by his marvellous win on the clay of Acapulco (6-0 6-2 over David Ferrer, #4), it will be as a sharper version of himself than the one that took him to the top. Decisive shots and decisions like a shot. That is what Nicolas Almagro and Ferrer saw from Nadal in their Mexican face offs. The Mallorcan does not ask before he shoots now. He fires off the shot without any previous interchange. He, who has always dominated through rhythm and consistency, is now fighting with his gloves off, transformed by the pain in his knee.
"Rafael served pretty well during the clay swing," commented Toni. "From the situations I've experienced, I know this is less wearing on the knees and that helps him mentally to serve better: he has no other choice," he went on. "As was seen against Ferrer and Almagro, he's definitely playing much more aggressively," he added. "Let's see if that's the path we'll follow. We've no other choice. The conception has to change. The fact he had problems with his knee and less mobility in Chile and Sao Paulo (the first two tournaments after his injury), has meant he's gradually been adapting his game as he doesn't trust his legs so much. Finding himself in this position against Almagro and Ferrer, he knew he had to be aggressive, and he was," he said. "Rafa has done this on different occasions before now. When running is enough, he runs; when he really needs to, he gets down to taking more risks and serving better. He has been doing this for quite some time."
This capacity to decide, reflected in his transformation and in the choices he is making - hitting a winner instead of defending; taking risks instead of always playing to a rhythm; going for a big serve instead of one that simply controls the start of the play - , now moves on to be tested on hard courts. Nadal has not lifted a trophy on this surface since the autumn of 2010 (Tokyo). He has not played a match on cement since deciding not to play the semifinals in Miami 2012, precisely because his left knee was hurting him. He knows more players give him more problems on these courts and needs his best version to face those at the top.
"The first hard court tournament won't be easy, of course," admitted Toni. "This year is an unknown quantity. We've spent many months without playing. Anyone can appear and anyone can easily surprise you," he went on. "I know how difficult it is. Rafael has won on the surface he adapts best to. On hardcourt, we'll see."
Before all this, Nadal boarded a plane to New York, the city where he had his most glorious moment, where he completed the Grand Slam, winning all four slam tournaments, there in 2010, by defeating Djokovic in the US Open final. Amid the flashes yesterday, Nadal hugged Serena Williams, smiled at Victoria Azarenka and looked Juan Martin del Potro, his rival both on the tour and at the exhibition, in the eye. The Argentinian was much more than his opponent in a friendly match. He was the first touchstone, the first notched up on cement in a year, the first step towards rejoining the tour completely: "I have to listen to my heart," Nadal argued, "and it's telling me I have to go on competing, that I need to go to the next tournament."