Updated: July 15, 2010, 3:09 PM ET
How many more majors for Rafa?
By Greg Garber
AP Photo/Anja NiedringhausBattered, but not beaten: Can Rafael Nadal continue winning Slams despite his physical style?
As he held the golden Wimbledon trophy aloft, it was difficult not to notice the frayed, bruised bands of athletic tape wrapped around four fingers on his left hand. That stark juxtaposition of risk and gleaming reward neatly frames the career of Rafael Nadal.
For without the white tape, the unprecedented torque of his magnificent forehand would tear his hand -- not his opponents -- apart. As it is, Nadal's physically demanding game places enormous stress on various joints, especially his knees. At 24, he became the second-youngest man to collect his eighth Grand Slam singles title, but the occasion begs the question: How much longer will Rafa be a viable threat, especially with this violent style of play?
At least a few more months, if his admirers are to be believed. Fewer than 30 minutes after Nadal locked down the rare French Open-Wimbledon double, U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe predicted a triple crown -- meaning, a first-ever win for Rafa at the U.S. Open.
A day later, Patrick's brother John -- a seven-time Grand Slam singles champion -- seconded the notion.
Nadal's matches played
"Nadal wants to win the U.S. Open so badly," said McEnroe, a fixture on the ATP Champions Tour. "It'd be hard not to pick him at this time, even though he's never won it. The conditions in New York don't suit Nadal so well and he needs to make his body hold up. So I think after Wimbledon he is going to take some time off and get his knees recovered and then maybe not play too many matches before the Open."
The bandwagon effect will be in play this summer as the North American hard-court season concludes at the National Tennis Center. Rafa-mania will reign as Nadal looks to complete his career Grand Slam, but beware of the continuing phenomenon that is Rafatigue.
At Wimbledon, Nadal revealed that he tweaked his left knee in Miami playing against Andy Roddick in the semifinals of the Sony Ericsson Open and skipped Barcelona so he could rehab it. At Wimbledon, his right knee created some issues and Nadal admitted, "I am a little bit scared about the knee."
The U.S. Open, oddly, is the only major Nadal has played every year going back to 2003; he has missed each of the others twice. And although his trajectory in New York closely mirrors his consistent ascent in the Australian Open -- where he broke through in 2009 as champion -- the U.S. Open, with its swift courts, remains his most elusive Slam.
Nadal lost in the semifinals the past two years (to Andy Murray in 2008 and Juan Martin del Potro in '09) and he has always looked a little weary -- understandably -- when he reaches the second week in New York. In 2008 -- the first time he accomplished the Euro Slam double -- he also played six matches at the Beijing Olympics, winning gold.
This year, he's scheduled to play only the two ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events, in Toronto and Cincinnati. Based on his numbers from recent years (an average of 28 post-Wimbledon matches from 2005-09), Nadal will finish with about 80 matches. That's the same number as last year, when he missed more than two months with injured knees -- and far fewer than the ATP-high of 93 he posted in 2008.
Even with defending champion Del Potro expected to miss the U.S. Open and Roger Federer coming off two exits in majors quarterfinals, Nadal will be pressed in attempting the unusual triple. The last man to win three straight majors in the same year? Rod Laver, in 1969, when he won all four.
It says here Laver's triple play will go unmatched.