How Rafael Nadal Can Save His Knees and Why America Needs to Help: Fan’s Take

With players like Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic dominating men's tennis, fans are witness to some of the most spectacular and athletic tennis that has ever been played. However, that increased athleticism has come at a price, as players like Nadal and Djokovic have had to withdraw from tournaments over the past year because of injury.

With Nadal begging out of the semi-finals of the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami this past week, injuries are getting attention earlier in the 2012 season than usual. Nadal has dealt with chronic tendinitis in his knee for some time, and apparently he aggravated it again on the hard courts in Miami.

Some of Nadal's issues with his knees go back to how much tennis he plays on a year-round basis, his genetics, his athleticism and speed (puts more pressure on his knees), and that he plays more matches than most because he's so successful. It's difficult to point out an area of his preparation where he could do something different to help his knees. He frequently plays five-set matches in the semi-finals and finals of major tournaments so he needs to be in top cardiovascular shape. With the state of tennis now, he needs to continue pushing himself physically on the court to beat other young, athletic players.

There are two ways in which he could try and save his knees a bit. One would be to play fewer tournaments. For a guy as competitive as Nadal, that's not an option he's likely to take unless forced. Missing a tournament here and there would undoubtedly negatively affect his ranking, and he's already expressed displeasure with how much tennis is required in order to maintain it. He recently quit the ATP Players Council, and some feel that was a direct result of not being able to implement a two-year ranking system passed that would alleviate the pressure on himself.

My second idea for helping Nadal is to move some American tournaments onto clay courts. There have been four ATP tournaments played in the United States so far in 2012, and all four were on hard courts. In April, the U.S. Clay Court Championships will be held in Houston, Texas. In July, the Campbell's Hall of Fame Championships are held on grass. After that, there are five more tournaments in the United States (include the U.S. Open), and all are on hard courts. Injuries are more prevalent on hard court surfaces than they are on clay. Impact to joints is much greater on hard court surfaces than they are on surfaces (like clay) which allow more sliding.

I can understand why there are so many hard court tournaments in the late summer. Mostly they are all tuneups for the last Grand Slam of the year, the U.S. Open. However, why do the early tournaments need to be all on hard court? Florida has several clay court centers, and there's no reason why the tournament in Miami shouldn't be on clay when the clay court season opens in Europe a week later. American tennis enthusiasts deserve the chance to see the best clay court players in the world in person, and it would certainly also help in reducing the number of injuries seen in the early part of the tennis season.

Ultimately, there may not be anything that can be done to prevent Nadal's tendinitis from flaring up from time to time. He may deal with this the rest of his career. However, little tweaks in his schedule and a move to playing more clay courts may help. I think the United States should move a few of its bigger tournaments onto clay surfaces to help prolong players' careers. Our top players are training on clay courts in Florida. Why can't we actually have our tournaments on the same surface?

Julie has followed tennis her entire life. Her earliest tennis memories were listening to John McEnroe scream at officials at Wimbledon. She considers Pete Sampras the greatest American player ever, and is patiently waiting for the next great American to come along.

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Updated Saturday, Mar 31, 2012