• Chris Wilkinson

Injury won't change Rafa's all-action approach

Chris Wilkinson August 21, 2012

The US Open drawsheet will have a distinctly lop-sided look to it following the news that Rafael Nadal will not be fit for the final grand slam of the year.

After being forced to miss the defence of his Olympic title, Nadal was due to return to action in Toronto, only to pull out. He was then forced to skip Cincinnati, only to withdraw from the US Open. It's pretty worrying to be honest; to withdraw from a major so early - two weeks before the tournament starts - it must be serious if he entertained no hope of recovering in time.

He is now due to return to action at the Davis Cup in September, but he has hardly played since the French Open.

Unlike most injuries where a player will have surgery or simply take time off to recover, Nadal's tendonitis is an ongoing problem and will never go away, and will ultimately cut his career short.

He missed a lot of the 2009 season with the problem, but he has reduced his schedule in recent years and has learnt to deal with the strain the sport puts on his body.

But the way Nadal plays, the threat of the injury flaring up will always be hanging over him. He is such a physical player and the transition from clay to grass, and then onto the hard courts, will take its toll on his joints perhaps more than others.

Having said that, I don't think we will see him change his approach. As the Williams sisters have got older they have drastically reduced their schedule and we really only see them at the majors and in the warm-up tournaments to the slams.

But I don't think Nadal could do that - he is a fierce competitor and he loves to get out on the court and play tennis. On top of that, the tournaments need the likes of him and Roger Federer to sell tickets. Nadal will continue to play as much as his body lets him - and probably more.

Murray has the chance of overtake Nadal in the rankings if he has a good US Open, but he appears to be struggling to adapt to the hard courts after a successful grass campaign.

Will Andy Murray suffer an Olympic hangover at the US Open © Getty Images

He pulled out of the Rogers Cup with a knee injury then lost early on in Cincinnati. I was concerned that Murray had not got enough match time in the lead up to Wimbledon after losing his opening match at Queen's - but he was able to ride a wave of British support through the opening rounds and he got better as he progressed through the fortnight.

He should be able to play his way into form at Flushing Meadows, but the draw will be crucial. The top players are able to do that as the best-of-five setters certainly allow a bit of leeway for getting into the swing of things.

My worry for Murray as that he will struggle to get himself up for the US Open after enjoying such fierce home support at Wimbledon and the Olympics. Having beaten Federer in a best-of-five set final for the first time should be the springboard he needs to go on and win his first slam, and he has beaten both Federer and Novak Djokovic in recent weeks, but the danger is he takes his eye off the ball and he pays the price for lack of match practice and tumbles out early.

Murray's struggles just emphasise what a phenomenal player Federer is - that in his first week back on the hard courts he can win a tournament without even dropping his serve. Going into the US Open, Federer has got to be the favourite, followed by Djokovic and Murray. Beyond that, Juan Martin Del Potro is probably the next in line, but it does seem to be a three-horse race.

What should be even more alarming for Federer's rivals is the nature of his win over Djokovic in the Cincinnati final - he whitewashed the Serb for the first time as he raced through the opening set 6-0. That will be a huge psychological boost for the Swiss heading into the US Open - Djokovic does seem to be struggling at the moment - and he of all people knows how big a factor confidence can be.

He did well to pick himself up from the disappointment of missing out on a gold medal at London 2012 to win in Toronto last week, but Federer has definitely got the edge at the moment - just like Djokovic had the edge over Nadal this time last year.

It was always going to be hard for Djokovic to match his achievements last year, and he seems to be struggling to maintain his focus for every tournament. That said, I'm sure there will be no lack of motivation to defend his US Open crown and secure his second major of the year.

Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1

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Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1, who now serves as a tennis commentator and as a coach for the LTA. He is ESPN.co.uk's resident expert, providing an exclusive view on the world of tennis. Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1, who now serves as a tennis commentator and as a coach for the LTA. He is ESPN.co.uk's resident expert, providing an exclusive view on the world of tennis.