First Roger Federer, now Rafa Nadal. Is this the beginning of the end for two of the greatest players in modern tennis?
Has time caught up with them, bodies taking longer to recover, younger, more agile men taking centre stage and outlasting them over gruelling five-setters in slam events?
These are the questions many sports fans will be asking after Nadal announced this week he will not be playing at either Wimbledon or the Tokyo Olympics, in order as his statement said, to to rest and recover “after listening to my body”.
He continued: “The goal is to prolong my career and continue to do what makes me happy,”
Almost word for word what Federer said earlier this year.
Nadal said having only two weeks between the end of the French Open and the start of Wimbledon this year — normally there are three, was also a factor.
The clay court season can be physically demanding and recovery to be ready to mount a serious challenge at Wimbledon is paramount.
Some critics have already written than today’s top sportsmen and women can pick and choose events, because it is sponsors, and not prize money that pays their bills.
Nadal has a huge sponsorship portfolio – he made $US 40 million last year. He doesn’t need to play every major. And Wimbledon is no longer his main event – hasn’t won it in over a decade.
But a back injury in Melbourne back in February may have been an early signal that this dynasty is coming to an end.
Federer is undoubtably not the force he was – he is five years older than Nadal.
Picking and choosing events, as some say, is one way of prolonging ones career – the ATP tour is arguably tougher now than it ever was – and covid restrictions have added further pressures.
Niggles and ‘minor’ injuries as a 20-something can often be masked or overcome quickly, but a decade later the recovery time lengthens, often doubles and even worse, often leads to surgery.
Federer is all too aware of that having had double knee surgery in the past year.
Both players will no doubt want to be fit and ready for New York in September – but is 2021 going g to be their farewell season?
We couldn’t begrudge them that – they have served the game magnificently for a long time and should it be the case, the world of tennis will stand as one and applaud their efforts.
And whether it is this or next year, there is about to be a changing of the guard – a new order challenging Novak Djokovic for at least another two or three seasons.
Djokovic looks the best of the three to still remain at the top of the rankings, but even he is fallible.
Ask any professional sportsperson about retirement – or even contemplating it – and they will tell you it is the hardest decision to make. When to call it a day.
Go too long and end playing out your career with early around losses to young upstarts looking to make a name for themselves, or call it day at the top.
It hasn’t come to that – yet. But that day is drawing ever closer.