Nadal: Mur­ray will be a big loss, but the game goes on

The Sun News (Sunday) - - Sports - BY JOHN PYE

Rafael 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 long­time lead­ing four in men’s ten­nis to sig­nal the end of his ca­reer is some­thing Nadal has to keep in per­spec­tive.

No. 2-ranked Nadal en­ters the Aus­tralian Open as a le­git­i­mate ti­tle con­tender along with No. 1ranked No­vak Djokovic and No. 3-ranked Roger Fed­erer, both six-time cham­pi­ons at Mel­bourne Park. Nadal is 32. Djokovic will turn 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 that it could be his last after 20 months of strug­gling to over­come a long-time in­jury. The se­vere pain from his sur­gi­cally re­paired right hip is re­strict­ing his move­ment and he has al- ready flagged he’ll re­tire after Wim­ble­don – if he can keep play­ing that long.

Mur­ray prac­ticed Satur­day at Mel­bourne Park 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, the only one of the four Grand Slam tour­na­ments that he hasn’t won at least twice.

“Yeah, of course is very bad news,” Nadal said of Mur­ray’s tear­ful news con­fer­ence the pre­vi­ous day. “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 of ten­nis be­cause of in­juries through­out his ca­reer, manag­ing to amass 17 ma­jor ti­tles, but he 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. Is tough.”

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 when he has per­sis­tent in­juries. That is less of an op­tion for Mur­ray, who is con­tem­plat­ing fur­ther surgery just to cut down on the pain he feels when he’s do­ing some­thing as sim­ple 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 U.S. 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 Mon­day on Rod Laver Arena. Fed­erer will have a night match against De­nis Is­tomin on the same cen­ter court.

Mur­ray is sched­uled to play No. 22-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut on Mon­day at Mel­bourne Arena, the third of the show courts. Djokovic is on the other side of the draw and will start on Day 2.

Nadal re­called a younger Mur­ray – “a lit­tle bit a bad boy” – in the un­der-13s and 14s, but was full of praise for how his Scot­tish friend had evolved.

“You ap­pre­ci­ate a lot your ri­vals be­cause you shared lot of im­por­tant mo­ments in our lives,” he said. “I al­ways had good re­la­tion­ship with him. We shared courts in the most im­por­tant sta­di­ums in the world, com­pet­ing for the most im­por­tant things. That’s im­pos­si­ble to for­get.”

KIN CHE­UNG AP

Bri­tain’s Andy Mur­ray, prac­tic­ing Satur­day ahead of the Aus­tralian Open, said Fri­day that this could be his swan song, as a prob­lem hip pushes him to­ward re­tire­ment.

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