He had only been back on the tour for three weeks after a wrist injury halted his season with a fourth-round exit at Wimbledon, but before he had barely got started in the Asian swing, he was hit by appendicitis. Perhaps not surprising, then, that he lost in his first match at the Shanghai Masters, and then three matches into the Swiss Indoors in October, decided to call it a day for the year.
However Nadal revealed, after losing to teenage sensation Borna Coric in Basel, that he was contending with more than just appendicitis and the flood of antibiotics that went with it. The back problems that flared up at the Australian Open were still an issue that needed addressing if he was to be fit for 2015.
“I need five weeks of rest to do the [appendix] surgery: I’m going to have it on the Monday after Paris. I’ll work this week on treatment for my back. I have to do a few things on my back that take five, six, seven days to be recovered: it can be painful.”
He subsequently revealed that his doctor of 14 years, Angel Ruíz-Cotorro, proposed stem cell treatment, the first phase of which was to extract the cells from Nadal for cultivation. According to Associated Press, Ruíz-Cotorro explained it thus: “We are going to put cells in a joint in his spine [to] regenerate cartilage in the midterm, and produce an anti-inflammatory effect.”
Good reason, then, for dejection but, as is so often the case when it comes to Nadal’s take on the world, good reason to look forward with optimism, even as he was leaving Basel with two different surgeries on the horizon.
“I get a little bit tired of what happened the last five, six months. Been hard to play and compete when you can’t practise weeks in a row… [So] this is a day to say goodbye for the season, it is the day to say it was a good first six months of the season.
“It’s been hard since Australia with my back, then my wrist, then appendicitis. It’s been very hard for me mentally and physically too, so this is the time to say I will not play Paris and London. I need to do the surgery, to work on my back a lot.
I’m especially looking forward to the beginning of a new year, probably even more than usual
“[But] I have enough time, and then I want at the end of the season to try and work as much as I can to be fit for 2015, and the only way to work to be fit is to be healthy.”
And this week, it was a happier, healthier Nadal—surgery behind him and planning a return to training next week—who arrived to lay a new foundation, actually and metaphorically. Dressed to kill in grey suit and crisp white shirt, he and his family presided over the laying of the foundation stone of the tennis school in his name that will open in home-town Manacor in Mallorca in 2016.
He added one of his own rackets to a perspex time-capsule that was winched below the first foundation stone of what will be known as the Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar, a project designed to combine top-class tennis coaching with personal and academic development for talented young people from around the world.
Nadal talked during the ceremony of this being the first step in a long-evolving plan with his father as well as coach and uncle Toni Nadal. And it has the makings of a strong foundation in a new role for Rafa himself when he eventually draws a line under his own playing career.
The academy will be made up of 18 tennis courts, a school, residential accommodation for the pupils, swimming pools, gym and a football pitch—and a sporting focus for the island as a whole.
But it will also become home to Nadal’s own charitable Foundation, which was set up in 2007 with very similar aims. That too is very much a family affair, headed by his mother and involving his father and long-standing partner, Maria Francisca Perello. Its mission echoes that of the Academy: using education and sport to foster personal development, particularly for socially discriminated children and teenagers.
Nadal talked of his own passion for sport, and his hopes of sharing that with future students.
“This is a very special moment. Sports in general have been my passion all my life, since I was a kid. And in this case tennis, it has given me a lot, so this is a way to give something back to kids and to the new generation.”
He went on to talk of his own motivation, which seems to burn as bright as ever even after the repeated knock-backs of 2014.
“I’m especially looking forward to the beginning of a new year, probably even more than usual because this year has been so complicated for me.
“I have the same motivation as always, preparing for the new season. I am almost 100 percent recovered from my appendicitis operation. So in one week I’m going to start my practice, and I’m very excited for that. And I’ll work as hard as I can to be ready for the beginning of 2015: That is very important for me.”
Nadal intends to return to competition at the very start of 2015, on 2 January, at the popular six-man exhibition tournament, the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi, before heading to his first tour event in Doha, which starts on 5 January. Then it’s off to Australia, where his woes began last year.
But when it comes to this particular Spaniard, this Mallorcan, it becomes more clear with every passing year that Nadal’s heart will forever live in one small island in the Mediterranean, a place where the name “Rafa Nadal” will now have an indelible mark.
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