Nadal: Mur­ray will be a big loss

Nelson Mail - - Sport - John Pye

Rafa Nadal knew it was in­evitable that sooner or later the Big Four would be­come the Big Three.

That Andy Mur­ray is the first of the long-time lead­ing four in men’s ten­nis to sig­nal the end of his ca­reer is some­thing Nadal has to keep in per­spec­tive.

The No 2-ranked Nadal en­ters the Aus­tralian Open start­ing to­day as a le­git­i­mate title con­tender along with No 1-ranked No­vak Djokovic and No 3-ranked Roger Fed­erer, both six-time cham­pi­ons at Mel­bourne Park. Nadal is 32. Djokovic turns 32 in May, a week or so af­ter Mur­ray. Fed­erer is 37.

Five-time fi­nal­ist Mur­ray plans to start the tour­na­ment in Aus­tralia, but he has con­ceded it could be his last af­ter 20 months of strug­gling to over­come a long­time in­jury. The se­vere pain from his sur­gi­cally re­paired right hip is re­strict­ing his move­ment and he has al­ready flagged he’ll re­tire af­ter Wim­ble­don – if he can keep play­ing that long.

Mur­ray prac­ticed at Mel­bourne Park at the week­end not long be­fore Nadal ap­peared at a news con­fer­ence to talk about his health af­ter three months out of com­pet­i­tive ten­nis and his prospects at the Aus­tralian Open.

‘‘Yeah, of course is very bad news,’’ Nadal said of Mur­ray’s tear­ful news con­fer­ence last week. ‘‘Will be a very im­por­tant loss for us, for the world of ten­nis, for the tour, for the fans, even for the ri­vals that he have been part of a great ri­valry be­tween the best play­ers for a long time, and a great com­peti­tor.

‘‘But be­ing hon­est, when some­body like him, that he achieved al­most ev­ery­thing in his ten­nis ca­reer, is suf­fer­ing like he’s do­ing for such a long time al­ready . . . prob­a­bly he does the right thing for his men­tal health.’’

Nadal has missed long pe­ri­ods be­cause of in­juries through­out his ca­reer, still man­ag­ing to amass 17 ma­jor ti­tles, but has never con­tem­plated a date for re­tire­ment.

‘‘I didn’t ar­rive to that point. I am a pos­i­tive guy. I al­ways had the feel­ing that we’ll fix it,’’ he said. ‘‘But, of course, there is pe­ri­ods of time that you don’t see the light.’’

Fed­erer has cred­ited im­prove­ments in travel, in nu­tri­tion and in life bal­ance for giv­ing mod­ern ten­nis play­ers the abil­ity to ex­tend their ca­reers well into their 30s. He was 35 and com­ing off a long in­jury lay­off when he re­vived his ca­reer with an Aus­tralian Open title in 2017. He suc­cess­fully de­fended the title last year, his 20th ma­jor.

Nadal’s plan for longevity re­volves around play­ing fewer tour­na­ments and rest­ing when­ever he has per­sis­tent in­juries. That be­came less of an op­tion for Mur­ray, who is con­tem­plat­ing fur­ther surgery just to cut down on the pain he feels when he’s do­ing such sim­ple things as putting on his shoes and socks.

‘‘Seems like he had not very long ca­reer be­cause to­day play­ers are play­ing that long. But he’s 31 – 10 years ago, if he re­tired at 31, we will say he had a great and very long ca­reer,’’ Nadal said.

‘‘We will miss him. But to­day is him. To­mor­row an­other one. We are not 20 any­more. Our gen­er­a­tion, ev­ery­one is more than 30s.’’

The Big Four have dom­i­nated the men’s cir­cuit for more than a decade and shared around the ma­jor ti­tles with few ex­cep­tions, such as Stan Wawrinka’s wins at the 2014 Aus­tralian Open, the 2015 French and the 2016 U.S Open, and Marin Cilic’s vic­tory at the 2014 US Open.

There’s a crop of other play­ers com­ing through, in­clud­ing No 4-ranked Sasha Zverev, but much of the at­ten­tion in the first the cou­ple of days at Mel­bourne Park will be on Nadal, Mur­ray and Djokovic – who went through ju­niors together – and Fed­erer.

Nadal will open against Aus­tralian James Duck­worth in the sec­ond match on Rod Laver Arena to­day. Fed­erer has a night match against De­nis Is­tomin on the same cen­tre court.

Mur­ray is sched­uled to play No 22-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut to­day at Mel­bourne Arena, the third of the show courts. Djokovic is on the other side of the draw and will start to­mor­row.

GETTY IMAGES

Rafael Nadal, left, and Andy Mur­ray have had a healthy ri­valry but Mur­rary’s ca­reer is wind­ing down be­cause of a se­ri­ous hip in­jury.

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