We all know that Rafael Nadal pulled out of Wimbledon because of knee tendinitis. But I didn’t know that ESPN analyst/super-coach Darren Cahill suffered from similar problems on-court, which he says ended his career. (He retired at age 29 but he played his last three years without winning a singles title.)
Darren went into great detail today while doing live commentary, grimly recounting his own experiences and the parallels he sees in Rafa’s situation. This is my own “transcription” so please forgive any little inconsistencies. And warning – some of this is tough to hear:
It’s different for every kind of player. Who knows how chronic Nadal’s knee injuries are. But patella tendinitis finished my career. I had it for three years and I tried everything to shake it. I took a bunch of time off. I spent three years icing it twice a day, even on days off, and living on anti-inflammatories. And that’s a whole different story, what anti-inflammatories do to you. It wears you down mentally. I’d wake up every morning and not know what kind of shape my knees would be in. And you can’t train and you can’t prepare to improve the way you want to.
And there were just so many things in Rafa’s press conference that sent those memories back to me. He looked tired and beat up mentally. Exactly the same way I was. And we have nothing to compare in our careers. Nothing. Except that I know what he’s going through with this injury.
You can compete and get through your matches but it’s just the managing of the injury that wears you out. I basically said to my coach at that time, “If I’m ever going to have a chance to make a run at the top ten or be as good as I’m going to be. . I’ve got to fix this. I just can’t continue doing what I’m doing.” My final option after three years was to do surgery and that was it. It finished my career.
Some people can shake this injury off. Martina Navratilova shook it off. So hopefully Rafa can get through this because it’s a nightmare of an injury to have. You live with it – that nagging, aching pain every single day.
Four weeks before I had the surgery I was actually playing well. I won a tournament in San Francisco (which would be his last singles title) and I was so sick and tired of icing my knees and taking anti-inflammatories that I actually rewarded myself for winning the tournament by not doing it. The next morning I packed my bags to get on the plane to Philadelphia to play, and I had tears in my eyes the pain was so bad in my knees. The one day I didn’t ice or take anti-inflammatories. So for me, mentally, I was gone. I could’ve kept playing but I’d been tapped out.
Darren ended his analysis with this positive grace note:
I think for the last few years we’ve looked at Nadal’s game and tried to figure out how he could be better than what he already is. And he’s done that. He’s actually found ways of doing that. And physically there’s no one stronger on tour. So if anybody can come back a bigger, stronger, faster, fitter athlete, it’s Rafael Nadal. And I hope he does.
Yeah, I think we all hope for that! But after such a sad and sobering story, I don’t know what to think. At the very least, I have a new empathy for what Nadal is going through. How are you feeling about it?