Really, this is one of the oddest photos I've seen of Rafael Nadal. The guy has a chronic problem with his left knee. He hasn't played a tennis match since June 28th, when he was bounced out of Wimbledon in the 2nd round by a journeyman ranked 100th in the world. He didn't get a chance to defend his 2008 gold medal -- or carry the Spanish flag -- at the London Olympics. He pulled out of Cincy, and out of the US Open.
So, what's with the cheerful grin?
Nadal issued a statement earlier this week announcing his withdrawal from the Open, the final Grand Slam of the season. Today, he held a news conference from his hometown in Mallorca to elaborate on "I'm not playing because my knee hurts."
Rafa has Hoffa's Syndrome. Alright, I know what you're thinking, and you're wrong. While getting your knee whacked with a lead pipe by a mobster might lead to Hoffa's Syndrome, the condition has nothing to do with the long-missing Teamsters leader.
It's caused when the fat pad in your knee swells up and gets pinched between your knee cap and the bottom of your thigh bone. There's a good explanation of it, with a photo, here.
“The best thing I can do now is to stop, get fully well, accept the situation and work hard to come back better," Nadal said.
This has got to be frustrating. I was out for a few weeks one summer with tennis elbow, and I was in emotional agony. Well, to be fair, I'm frequently in emotional agony, for all sorts of reasons, but it was hard to watch other people play when I couldn't. I imagined my Worthy Opponents getting better, while my arm shriveled up and turned to dust. I wanted to know when, exactly, this tendonitis was going to go away and when I could start hitting again. I didn't like the open-endedness of my healing process, my powerlessness.
If I were Rafa, I wouldn't look so damned happy.
Rafa's ranked 3rd in the world, only 695 points ahead of Andy Murray, the guy who struck Olympic gold just a few weeks ago at Wimbledon.
“At this stage in my career my ranking is of the least importance,” Nadal said. “The most important thing is that I am sure I am fit to compete like I did during the first six months of this year, with a solid chance to win in each tournament I enter. After being almost eight years ranked either first or second, I think that being ranked second or fourth or sixth doesn’t really change anything.”
There's no time table for his return. He said he'd like to play for Spain in the Davis Cup semifinal match against the United States, starting Sept. 14, but he's not promising anything.