Swiss Indoors 2014: Nervous Rafael Nadal uneasy over Basel and beyond

Rafael Nadal is unsure if he will be able to play at the ATP World Tour Finals as he recovers from appendicitis

2014 has not been too kind to Rafael Nadal.

It all started well enough, of course: seven finals from 10 tournaments, with three titles culminating in a record ninth French Open—and ranked No1 for the duration.

The grass season changed all that. A first-round loss at Halle was followed by a surprise fourth-round loss at Wimbledon to the 144-ranked Nick Kyrgios. By the end of the grass swing, Nadal had not only lost the No1 ranking to Novak Djokovic but was carrying a wrist injury that would sideline him through the entire US Open Series.

Finally Nadal made it back in time for the Asian swing and looked pretty good for a man who had not played a competitive match for three months: He beat Richard Gasquet 6-4, 6-0, in Beijing for openers.

But then he faced another huge hurdle. After moving on to prepare for the Shanghai Masters, he developed appendicitis, and was hospitalised just three days before his first match.

Nevertheless, flooded with antibiotics and checked again by the hospital, he decided to play. Surgery, the doctors assured him, could be put off for the moment.

Not surprisingly, lack of match-play compounded by lack of practice and a system full of antibiotics would not prove to be the best combo for a Masters tournament, and he lost to Feliciano Lopez in his opener.

And ever since, the debate has raged: Just how well is Nadal? How long can he put off surgery? Will he manage to play any, let alone all, of his scheduled tournaments?

So little wonder, as he settled in front of the media in Basel, where he has returned to try his chances after a gap of 10 years, that he was asked to elaborate on his health and his plans.

Again, the news started well enough: “I am better. I have improved. I’ve been taking a lot of antibiotics for a week and a half. [They] take your body down and affect your performance physically, especially without the rhythm—not being able to play well in Beijing, affected Shanghai, so it has been a little bit hard to come back after the wrist injury.

“But that’s part of sport and part of my career already. I just accept that and try to be healthy again… and get back to my best.”

He then bridled at the suggestion that he might feel upset by his bad luck.

“[You think if] I am annoyed it will be better in some respect? If you are negative you are not working with the right energy, so I prefer to be positive, as I have all my career.

“Try to be positive, and work with the right intensity and the right mentality to play the best tennis as soon as possible. Only way to come back to my best level is working and being healthy. If you cannot practise for weeks in a row, that is impossible, but I am optimistic that it is going to happen again soon.”

Yet pressed about his schedule—and this is the first time since Madrid moved from the indoor season to the clay swing in 2009 that Nadal has played an extra indoor tournament before the Paris Masters and ATP World Tour Finals—he would make neither promise nor commitment.

“I don’t know what’s the chance. I don’t know if I feel well. I have to talk with my doctors about my feelings after here—go day by day here. I don’t think about Bercy or the World Tour Finals now after what happened to me the last few months with wrist injury and appendicitis.

“I have to [have] surgery before the end of the year… I want to be completely fit and feeling well for the beginning of 2015. So I have to check everything, my feelings playing here, my physical sensations, and leave the timings.

“The goal is to try and be competitive tomorrow. I am not 100 per cent sure what is going to happen because I didn’t practise well enough, for enough time, and the body feels more tired than usual when it is playing.

“Practising is one thing, competing is another. When you compete, you have adrenalin, the heart goes faster, and I don’t know how my body is going to answer that. I am a little scared about how my body going to react.”

He talked of how previous muscular problems had often come after taking antibiotics: “So it is something that I’m a little bit scared of—how the body will answer in a real competition. But I will see how I feel here. I try my best, I practise three days, and let’s see tomorrow if I can be competitive, see how I go.”

Nadal opens against qualifier Simone Bolelli in the headline match after the opening ceremony at the Swiss Indoors. The Italian spent much of the year building his way through Challengers before making main-tour inroads against tough opposition at Wimbledon and the US Open.

Judging by his performance indoors against Roger Federer in their recent Davis Cup tie, he will certainly not be lacking ambition.

And there is no doubt that Nadal will bring every ounce of his renowned positivity to trying to win his first ever match in Basel—but also every reason to excuse him if he does feel just a little bit scared, too.

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