Rafael Nadal’s ‘motivation’ is key to his injury management and longevity, says top physio Stephen Mutch | Tennis News



NEW DELHI: In the recent French Open men’s semi-final, Rafael Nadal’s concern over Alexander Zverev’s ankle injury was evident. Suffering from a chronic foot injury himself, the Spaniard knows the agony an injured condition can cause. Wearing a worried look, Nadal sympathized with Zverev, who writhed in pain on the clay court at Roland Garros as the doctor watched him.
A few days after his 14th triumph at Roland-Garros, the 22-time Grand Slam winner was himself at the doctor’s clinic.
Looking ahead to the Grand Slam on clay, Nadal’s chronic injury, Mueller-Weiss Syndrome in medical terms, flared up at the Rome Masters.
It’s an injury that Nadal has been dealing with for years and has kept him sidelined for most of the last year. But his drive to excel is perhaps unmatched, which fueled Nadal’s record return to the Australian Open. He beat a scorching Daniil Medvedev in the final to claim his 21st Grand Slam trophy – overtaking Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.
But Nadal’s favorite clay-court season this time didn’t start the way it ended. In Rome, the foot didn’t cooperate and Nadal lost to Denis Shapovalov in the knockout round clash. On top of that, he had a broken rib.
“Everyone in the tennis world knows that the preparation (for Roland-Garros) was not ideal,” Nadal told Eurosport. “I was out of the training grounds for a month and a half with a stress fracture in my rib. And then I have the foot which is something that stays there all the time. In Rome it was very difficult. But I had my doctor here (at Roland Garros) with me and we played without feeling the foot.”


Rafael Nadal (AFP Photo)
With an injury at the back of his mind, Nadal beat Novak Djokovic in the French Open quarter-finals before defeating the sadly injured Zverev in the semi-finals and ousting Casper Ruud in the final.
All this with a “sleepy” foot.
“We played with an injection in the nerve so that the foot would sleep, that’s why I was able to play,” he said.
What drives elite athletes to the point that they can manage such career-threatening injuries while staying at the top of their game?
Stephen Mutch, who is the head physiotherapist for Ireland’s senior men’s rugby team, believes it all comes down to the individual’s ‘motivation’ and logical ‘understanding’ of the situation.
“The risks you take as a youngster can be very, very different from the risks you take in the twilight of your career,” said Mutch, who is also one of the advisory board members of GITAM University. , while speaking to TimesofIndia.com.


Stephen Mutch
“With that in mind, they (veteran elite athletes) will then explore what their motivation is to keep going now, versus the motivation of some (other) athletes, who are now retiring because they often say it doesn’t. ‘is more worth it to them (more) or they will feel that their body is unable to participate in the same way,’ he added.
Days after his 14th French Open triumph, Nadal was seen on crutches, after undergoing foot treatment.
It’s nothing short of amazing that an athlete goes through all of this at the end of his career and still comes back to win Grand Slams.
Mutch says it’s a decision athletes have to make by putting each situation on the table and weighing it against their willingness to continue.
“The motivation is also potentially linked to their contextual situation in their career and in their life,” said the former Scottish Commonwealth Games team physio. “So the decisions that are made around that specific injury will change depending on where they see themselves in the context of their career, their contract or their life.
“Decisions will be made in agreement with the medical team that surrounds the athlete and with potentially the agents and the family for sure. So they look at the consequences, they look at the potential treatment plans, not just for here and now and for the immediacy of an event, but also what the consequences are if they continue,” Mutch further told TimesofIndia.com.
“It all adds up to a decision. Do I participate in sport more? Do the risks outweigh the benefits for my health and for my abilities in the future and for my place within the family? , maybe also within the culture. They (athletes) will weigh the benefits against the risks, and then in the context of their career in that position and how they imagine their career would go from now on, that’s that’s when they can decide if participating is really a good thing or not so good.”
While maintaining that this is a personal decision made by an athlete, knowing that it can go both ways for their life after retirement from the sport, Mutch said the “long-term results” of the Nadal’s decision to continue are difficult to determine at this stage.
“In the case you describe (of Nadal), that decision seems to have been made and so we have seen the results. We don’t know the long term results. I’ve probably read similar articles in terms of what could be these results from a health perspective, but all of them relate to the motivations of that individual and what can that individual be paying attention to right now that will affect their sport as well as their career and overall health.
“It’s a really tricky thing for athletes, and part of our supporting role is to provide them with the information that helps educate them about the context and in the environment that they’re currently in and what they’re in. could head after their sporting career comes to an end.”
Nadal, who is currently 36, is now eyeing a return to Wimbledon this year for the first time since 2019. The most successful men’s singles player of all time has started training on grass in his hometown of Mallorca. His uncle, Toni Nadal, had also recently told a tennis website that even if Rafa sees a slight possibility of playing at Wimbledon, he will. Nadal has won two Wimbledon titles in his career so far – in 2008 and 2010.


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