Rafael Nadal has spoken out about the number of hard-court events on the ATP tour, and now it's time for him to take a stand by skipping Indian Wells.
Earlier this month, Nadal hurled harsh criticisms toward men’s tennis’ governing body, and Associated Press writer Tales Azzoni quoted the star saying the following:
The ATP has to start thinking about ways to lengthen the players' careers. I can't imagine football players playing on cement, I can't imagine any other sport involving aggressive movements such as tennis being played on such aggressive surfaces such as ours. We are the only sport in the world making this mistake, and it won't change.
Now, Nadal is wavering on whether or not to travel to California to play in the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells. The Associated Press quotes him saying:
This is the truth because I love this tournament and the priority is to play. But if I don't feel comfortable playing and decide to wait to play on the hard courts, that's how it will be and I'll rest for the clay-court season (in Europe). But today I can't answer.
Regardless of how much he enjoys the Palm Springs area, Nadal should rest his knees instead of playing in the event. The clay-court season is where he shines brightest, and his sole focus should be ensuring that his form and health peak at the French Open.
Skipping the event is the right move for his major goals for this season, but he should take it a step further.
Nadal should be vocal about why he is pulling out of Indian Wells. He should harp on his point that hard courts are brutal on players’ knees and such a grueling schedule leads to injuries such as the partially torn patellar tendon that forced him to sit out for several months.
The uniformity and speed of hard courts make them attractive for the ATP tour, as a faster game with fewer mistakes is more view-friendly. But as NFL players would testify, there is a delicate balance between doing what is best for the fans and what is best for the athletes.
But a middle ground can certainly be found, and Nadal clearly feels that the ATP is not doing enough to compromise.
Nadal holds plenty of cards in this debate, and he has the ability to call more attention to the issue and create real change.
Tennis needs superstars, and Nadal is one of the few. If he makes a habit out of skipping hard-court events to protect his health and prolong his career, the ATP will take notice.
It would be a shame to see Nadal’s knees limit his potential when, at 26, he should have several more years of dominance remaining. Going forward, he should heavily weigh his options before playing on hard courts.
He doesn’t have to play until he destroys his knees, and he has the opportunity to both help himself and future players. He should sit out Indiana Wells—and certain hard-court events in the future—while being completely clear and honest with tennis fans about why he is skipping tournaments.