As he embarks on the latest episode of his personal Grand Slam by attempting to win the clay-court titles of Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Rome and Roland Garros, all of them for an unprecedented fourth year in succession, nasty things are beginning to happen toRafael Nadal's impressively sculpted body.
Though he is not 22 until next month, the intense demands of tennis on clay are reflected in the tape around both knees which Nadal's trademark trousers do not quite hide. The knees, and his left foot, are already acknowledged as chronic problems which doctors have told him he will have to live with, but here at the Real Club de Tenis there was the disturbing sight of a bandage on his left shoulder when Nadal reported tendinitis in his serving arm. The strapping was removed in the first set of Friday's quarter-final against Juan Ignacio Chela, resulting in an immediate upping of power and point-gathering.
None of this has prevented him sailing through to this afternoon's final of the Trofeo Conde de Godo, where he will face his Spanish Davis Cup team-mate David Ferrer, a 7-6 6-3 winner against Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland.
In yesterday's semi-final, again free of any shoulder bandaging, Nadal swept past Denis Gremelmayr, a 26-year-old German journeyman who has enjoyed the best week of an undistinguished career by eliminating three seeds, James Blake, Dmitry Tursunov and Nicolas Almagro, en route to a 6-1 6-0 defeat by the Spaniard.
Nadal needed 52 minutes to demolish an opponent who arrived looking unnerved by the prospect of what awaited. He was proved right, holding serve only once. Nadal dropped just five points on serve. By the start of the second set Gremelmayr was a disconsolate figure as the cross-court rockets went whizzing past him. Nadal then opted to treat the packed stadium to a spectacular finish, leaping to put away a slam-dunk smash to go to match point and finishing it off with an ace.
The Godo tournament, celebrating its 56th year, has never welcomed a four-time winner. The best previous efforts were the three titles captured by Roy Emerson, Manuel Orantes and Mats Wilander. Now Godo is waiting to acclaim the nation's hero should he lift the trophy this afternoon. And Barcelona's sports folk, still smarting over the loss to Manchester United in midweek, are even willing to forgive Nadal the fact that he isa Real Madrid supporter.
Victory over Gremelmayr moved Nadal to the head of the ATP 2008 Race, based on this season's results, but all he is achieving in the main rankings list is to tread water behind Roger Federer, the world No 1, by winning tournaments hewon last year.
Perhaps as a result of feeling the first twinges in his shoulder, Nadal launched an untypically bitter attack on the ATP Tour's demanding schedule, complaining that "it is impossible to be at maximum level for four straight weeks". Actually, it is closer to two non-stop months.
But, as his doctors pointed out, was it really necessary for Nadal to have played doubles as well as singles in Monte Carlo, winning both? Such enthusiasm needs to be curbed by the player and his advisers.Reuse content