December 18th, 2010
04:49 PM ET

Is Nadal's battered body his biggest threat?

Rafael Nadal won three successive Grand Slams despite his injury problems in 2010. (AFP/Getty Images)
Rafael Nadal won three successive Grand Slams despite his injury problems in 2010. (AFP/Getty Images)

CNN's World Sport will be broadcasting its predictions for 2011 in upcoming shows between December 31-January 2. In the final of a series of preview blogs, Candy Reid investigates who will be on top in men's and women's tennis.

This year belonged to Rafael Nadal. There’s no doubt about that - three Grand Slam titles and the world's No. 1 ranking. The question now is, can the Spaniard follow it up? I have my doubts.

To me he’s a bit like (but better) Lleyton Hewitt was in his prime. The Australian generally had one good year, one not so hot. And it’s much to do with the way they play. Rafa like Lleyton, fights for every single point. His desire and passion is immense, and so is the toll on his body.

Tendinitis has got the better of him, it seems, more times than an opponent. Just recently it was in his shoulder, before that in his knees. He cannot push it to the limit every single time, so it’s no surprise that he has reduced his schedule. Our loss – hopefully his gain!

Roger Federer is very selective when it comes to tournaments and is very rarely injured. I believe that will stand him in good stead next year. He had a so-so 2010 but finished on a high note after winning the year-end championship with a morale-boosting victory over Nadal.

He is, in my mind, the favorite to successfully defend his Australian Open title and will also win back his Wimbledon crown as he looks to silence the nay-sayers who have argued that his best is in the past.

Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray must be contenders in all four of the majors. Djokovic was incredible for Serbia in their historic Davis Cup win and always seems to be in the mix in individual events. It’s high time he added to his lone slam. Murray has yet to get off the mark in the big ones, but at only 23 he has much time, talent and will-power on his side.

Perhaps Robin Soderling can break open the top four, or even a fit-again Juan Martin del Potro, but it’s hard to see anyone else lifting a major next year.

I predict Federer will win in Australia and London, Nadal will take the honors in Paris and Djokovic will come good in New York. Not really going out on a limb, am I?

As for the women – well it’s much, much harder to predict.

For one thing, we have no idea when Serena Williams will return to the game. I interviewed her earlier this month and even she couldn’t really say. She’s been suffering from a mysterious leg/foot injury since July and still has a cast on. It’s going to take her a while to get her strength back after it comes off.

So that means Caroline Wozniacki could get a really firm grasp on the world No. 1 ranking. The young Dane has everything needed to win a major. Once she wins one, the pressure will be off and she could run rampant.

Vera Zvonareva had a very strong year, reaching two Grand Slam finals. Her head got in the way of both occasions though – so that’s something that needs to be sorted out if she’s going to break through.

Kim Clijsters, Maria Sharapova, Venus Williams and Justine Henin - all former number ones - were bit-part players in 2010. I hope for the sake of the women’s game that the same won’t be true come January. The WTA Tour badly needs all four back and contending.

Ana Ivanovic returned from the abyss to have a great end to the year. She’s another popular player who can create headlines. Perhaps she can add to her French Open title? I’d like to see it happen.

There’s a group of girls who are just on the periphery of greatness. One is Victoria Azarenka, whom I interviewed in Florida recently. She was tipped for the 2010 U.S. Open crown before departing in the second round with a concussion. Remember that?

The 21-year-old, 6’3" Belarussian quickly recovered from that setback to make the year-end championships for the first time and finished in the top 10. She is what TV broadcaster Mary Carillo calls a “big babe” and has tremendous mental strength along with physical presence.

Could this be the year of Vika? Quite frankly, I have absolutely no idea.

You’d probably have more chance of predicting the major winners by putting on a blindfold and randomly picking someone in the top 20!

I don’t have a blindfold, so here I go: Wozniacki will win in Australia, Ivanovic will take the French, Serena or Venus continue to own Wimbledon, and Clijsters will retain her title at the U.S. Open.

On the year-end number one ranking front, I’ll go for Federer and Clijsters. We’ll find out in 12 months' time if I’m right, or horribly wrong!

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Filed under:  Tennis
soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. Kilby Shepard

    All top players eventually reduce their tournament schedule, and Rafa is no different. He'll be fine and continue his dominance. As for The Fed...he'll be a perennial quarter-finalist for the rest of his career. His day of winning majors are behind him. One, he's lost that aura of fear that used to surround him. Two, he's become too defensive this late in his career. He doesn't attack the net like he used to, and he uses the drop-shot far too often. He played like a back-board against Djokovic in the U.S. Open semis and lost to the aggressive player.

    Lastly, his game of style and elegance gets pounded off the court by guys like Soderling and Thomas Berdych...who are stronger and younger.

    As for the women, Serena appears to have lost all will to compete. I'm beginning to wonder if the rumours of plastic surgery are true. Ivanovic will return to the top 10 thanks to new-found confidence and the switch to a bigger racquet. And Wozniacki...I just hope she ditches that god-awful tennis mini-skirt.

    December 18, 2010 at 5:58 pm | Reply
  2. naughty T....urbane gentleman

    Vika is 5' 10"

    December 18, 2010 at 11:21 pm | Reply
  3. DeShawn

    Since when is Victoria Azarenka 6'3"? The last time I checked she was 5'11"...

    December 18, 2010 at 11:51 pm | Reply
  4. Chris

    Great comparison with Hewitt-they both play every point as if it were their last. Nadal's body has already shown it can't take the beating over a full season, but I'd rather see him keep playing his style of tennis.

    December 19, 2010 at 12:57 am | Reply
  5. Jorgen Friis

    There is one thng that I can agree wth i,e, Nadal's tenure as world's #1 will be relatively shortlived. His style of play puts tremendous pressure on his
    body that it would be truly unrealist to expect Rafa to maintain his position
    over an extended period of time. I might even suggest he might end up like a Hewit who was once a #1 but has since seen his glory days go past him never to be regained. Otherwise I agree with CR's comments except to crystal ball one yar down the road is farfetched considering the difficulties we have in correctly predict what will happen over the short term. Too many intangibles are at play to make long term prognosis nothing more than guesswork and your guess guess is as good and bad as the rest of us

    December 19, 2010 at 1:58 am | Reply
  6. toddsaed

    Appears spot on, us tennis faithful have been more than lucky with the historic rivalry of Nadal and Federer , and sometimes muse about the comparisons to past rivalries, studying the tennis history can give a deeper appreciation, the depth is greater now, but the top few players may have been able to win on a given day against those of any era, so in the spirit of Christmas past, I would offer agreement with those who have issued such lists, Pancho Gonzalez maybe best ever, but Rod Laver, Lew Hoad, Jack Kramer, Don Budge, Ellsworth Vines, BIll Tildern, John MCEnroe, Federer, and Sampras could be the top ten,
    ( Agassi, Conners , Borg, Graf, Navritilova, Margaret Smith, Evert, and KIng deserving mention ) The list is interchangeable as to what order?

    December 19, 2010 at 2:53 am | Reply
  7. bob elmar

    Candy, get your facts straight! Azarenka is 5`11" not 6`3"! A simple fact check on google should not be too much to ask!

    December 19, 2010 at 3:07 am | Reply
  8. gr

    I think Federer is great, but I doubt he will get no. 1 ranking again.

    December 19, 2010 at 4:06 am | Reply
  9. Lu :)

    i have to say i totally agree with being Federer the best next year!!! Cuz he has always been!
    the girls is more diffucult to predict!! only what might be sure is Wozniacki staying up and Clijsters winning the US open

    December 19, 2010 at 4:46 am | Reply
  10. Santos

    Nadal does not care about these tournaments any more. He just shows up to these little tournaments to try to conserve a distance from your former loved champion.
    Nadal will try to win all major slams next year, and he will win at least three major slams next year, and Fed probably only one or none if Murray improves.

    December 19, 2010 at 5:33 am | Reply
  11. Ferdinand

    i'm big fan of tennis especially men tennis. for men your forecast might be true with Federer gaining back his crown as number one. As for the ladies, you said it-–I've no ideas. i prefer to wait and see what happens.

    Ferdinand
    Riyadh- KSA

    December 19, 2010 at 6:56 am | Reply
  12. Umoh

    Omg! Candy you're such a Roger-fan. I see Rafa as one who can really manage his haelth, and with this, "the breakthrouh" continues in 2011. You didn't even consider Sharapova for any major. I see this babe pulling stunts in 2011.

    December 19, 2010 at 7:10 am | Reply
  13. Sean Montgomery

    Did you just compare Nadal to Hewitt?

    I'm an Australian but as a tennis fan this is a bit much.

    December 19, 2010 at 8:18 am | Reply
  14. Margaret Rayner

    I totally agree with Candy re Nadal; I don't think he will be in the mix long term because of the way he plays and his body has taken a hammering – as you say unlike Federer. I think Federer has the perfect stature for tennis and the only other person who has that balance is Djokovic, possibly because of his skiing background.
    As for the ladies I think that is completely open. nobody jumps out of the mix unfortunately – they could just peak for one grand slam.

    December 19, 2010 at 9:14 am | Reply
  15. eric

    I would like to see Victoria Azarenka rise to the top.She has great talent.
    All the top players have the chance to win.Injury permitting! I do wonder how long Nadal's knees will keep going.

    December 19, 2010 at 5:29 pm | Reply
  16. straitjacket

    People said that about Nadal a year ago and he had his best year ever, on the back of being injured. He's still very young and if he takes care of his body, i can see him winning 3 maybe 4 slams next year.

    December 19, 2010 at 5:48 pm | Reply
  17. Carlos

    How can you compare Hewitt to Nadal? How many slams did Hewitt win? Would you compare a Honda to a Ferrari? Come on!

    The only fair comparisons you can make to Nadal are Sampras and Federer because those two guys have won the same titles, and are close in numbers.

    December 20, 2010 at 4:32 am | Reply
  18. Sachiko

    Hi Candy! As a Nadal fan, I'm interested and concerned with his clay court season. Four events prior to French, those he's planning to attend next year, seem too many. In my opinion Monte Carlo and Roma are crucial and enough for him, but Madrid and Barcelona is his home soil plus he withdrew Barcelona last year, that would make him feel more responsible and motivated. I want him to play in Spain but attending all four events will cost him physically(because it's highly likely he reaches final in all events), might end in causing serious injury, a repeat of 2009. Clay is his root and stronghold, that's why it might become a double-edged sword for Nadal. I hope he will make a wise choice.

    My slam prediction is same as you except Aussie open, there I pick Murray to win his maiden Slam, lifting up Norman Brookes challenge cup next month!

    At women side I hope for Sam Stosur. Switch from a doubles specialist to a singles player was rewarded this year, now she's no.6 in the world, incredible achievement. Her mixed style of play, capitalizing on net skill, top spin and superb kick serve, is fascinating. Though she may have a difficulty in hard court against powerful opponents, she hopefully will prevail in home soil or triumph at Roland Garros next time!

    December 20, 2010 at 5:02 am | Reply
  19. Alex

    Who are the young players coming up in the Men's game?

    December 20, 2010 at 4:50 pm | Reply
  20. Candy Reid from World Sport

    Hello all, Thanks for your comments. I've read all of them. I can confirm that VIka is 6'3. I went down to Florida to interview her last week and asked her how tall she was. I'm 5'11 and had heels on, she was in tennis shoes and towered over me. Check out the picture on my twitter page candyreidcnn. I'll repost it.

    As for comparing Nadal to Hewitt – you'll notice i put, 'but better' in brackets. Perhaps I should have put 'but much better' instead. I was merely referring to the effort they both put into every point rather than results.

    Keep those comments coming!

    December 20, 2010 at 6:50 pm | Reply
  21. Robert Maharaj

    Very insightful comments on Nadal, hats off to you. I am a 100% Rafa fan after the greatest Wimbledon ever (2009). The Hewitt final (2008) was also magnificent! However, not ignoring his (RN) achievements in 2010, and not seeing the entire match at the O2 (I switched off because I knew Roger would win and he did!) that last final of 2010 gave us a huge insight into Roger Federer's plans for 2011. I agree 100% that Nadal cannot maintain his No 1 position next year, if you notice every time he wins a grand slam he loses the following WTP matches because his body cannot take the pressure – he is after all only human. The difference between Roger and Rafa is that Roger plays a style of tennis that produces maximum output for minimum effort. He is "sleuth like" in his movements and never puts his body under pressure like Rafa. This is what is going to give him the edge, also you will also observe at the O2 match, Roger has now enough experience now to know the strengths and weaknesses of all the world's top players. I back him to win Wimbledon again and Rafa for the French, the rest I don't know!

    December 20, 2010 at 9:08 pm | Reply
  22. Manuel Angel

    I think Rafa will win the next year all the majors, his best moments still yet to come, every year Rafa is more mature and he knows his body better than in the past. He dosed best his efforts, now is being able to give his best at the right time.

    December 21, 2010 at 8:27 am | Reply
  23. gcm

    Vika is 5ft 11 according to google search.

    December 21, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Reply
  24. Ken Clayton

    Unfortunately in sports those who routinely give 110% are those who suffer injuries that can hamper their future efforts and even shorten their careers.
    To me the question is which should we admire most..the athlete who, by careful pacing extends his career to the maximum or the one who lays it all on the line day after day no holds barred. I admire both Roger and Rafi and hope they both can continue playing for many years to come, but this year I think neither will dominate but rather split victories.

    December 21, 2010 at 4:22 pm | Reply
  25. Chris P

    Nadal will still be the top male player for 2011. Everything being equal he is to strong

    December 21, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Reply
  26. iñigo

    What people don't understand about Nadal, is that Nadal has learned from his mistakes making him a stronger player both mentally and physically yes people say his body is going to wear out because he plays every point to the last, but what people havent realised is how much is has truly changed his game to have achieved everything he did this year, clay is obviosly by far his best it is what he was taught in and now he masters all surfaces having difficulties in some more then others but he still manages to reach finals and prove to everyone he is number 1 for a second time as this is the second time he has taken federers position as number one. People need to look back at Nadals history and compare him to the player he is today, i feel like people have beens saying his body is going to die out soon but lets be realistic a player that trains and trains and trains is bound to get injured every now and then look at Murray for example when his wrist injury came in at a bad time when he was playing so well. Nadal did not only knock everyone off there socks as he won 4 french opens in a row and tied bjorns record i think it was but ok still injured managed to stay top 2 over the past 5 years even still injured. So is his body gonna quit on him eventually the answer is yes but to all players not just nadal, nadal plays rough but has quickly realised he cannot play that way because he will not last as long as he would like too. So i believe next year will be intersting considering that Del Potro will be back who has been outstanding over the last couple years improving, Murray will be another big challenger and so will Djokovic they will be determinig Roger and Nadals future as number one and number two. Unfortunately being realistic it will be almost impossible to do what he did this year but then again i never thought he would keep doing better each year but the hard thing about the atp is as one wins a tournament or grand slam or whatever in order to match those points for next year you need to atleast make the final and then win the tournament to just defend the number of points you won last year, therefore it will be very tricky but i believe he will come back stronger then ever and prepared to battle each tournament at a time as he always does. Also believe he will be more decisive about his tournaments he will not be playing ever tournament but will probably choose which are most important to him and which is believes he needs to defend.

    December 22, 2010 at 11:33 pm | Reply
  27. James

    Nadal won't have a problem with his body in 2011,after the Oz open last year he only played a certain amount of tournaments that would mean he would not get injured again,he's not stupid,he knows if he kept playing the amount of tournaments like he did in 07/08 he would have to retire from the game.
    well he is going to win at Roland Garros barring injury.
    I think Federer is there or there abouts and I think he will win in Australia. who will win Wimbeldon and US Open well who knows,probably Rafa but I hope guys like Soderling and Murray make the breakthrough,we need a shakeup at the top of mens tennis.
    Not even going to guess the women's,just so open,Wozniacki should win one but has choked in big games at the Majors so who knows

    December 23, 2010 at 12:18 pm | Reply
  28. leon

    Hi Candi. I think that your predictions about 2011 Grandslam tennis Champions are completely, based upon what happened at the WTF and somewhat dismissive of what Nadal has accomplished, winning three consecutive grandslams on three different surfaces, playing three varying styles of tennis, something that federer 'cannot do'. Rafa will win the Australian open because,1:He's mentally and physically stronger than anyone on the tour, 2:The surface and the best of five set format, suits his style of play the most, just ask federer, (ala AO 09) and 3:They play outdoors as appose to the indoor setting WTF.Not to mention the overwhelming psychological edge nadal has over fed in a grand slam final. In addittion rafa is going to win the French Open and is the favorite to win Wimbledon and the US Open until proven otherwise. (9 GS and counting!)

    December 24, 2010 at 4:35 am | Reply
  29. tonads

    people please, federer is the best we have ever seen make no mistake of that. i have been watching tennis religously since the mid 80"S and i tell ya nadal and sampras are the only ones that come close. stay tuned cause i believe the magic number for federer will be 22 slams. if nadal gets injured may 26

    December 24, 2010 at 5:04 am | Reply
  30. Craig

    i agree federer is the goat, but 22 or 26 is crazy....i think he has two more in him maybe 3....in the end he will have 18 or 19 and rafa 16 or 17...if rafa had played it smarter with playing less tournaments these numbers might have been reversed but he didn't...

    December 25, 2010 at 7:09 am | Reply
  31. Tim

    i have never seen the media treat an athlete like more of a baby than Nadal..he's been healthy all year, why do we have to read stories like this? del potro, davydenko, roddick, tsonga, even murray have all had more serous injuy breaks than nadal... what is this about?

    its basically just lazy reporting and a fantasy that allows losses to be excused every single time over 'fatigue' or tendinitis or whatever else...what nonsense! tell me what tennis player doesnt deal with these realities, they just dont talk about it non stop ... its time for the media to stop playing the role of nadal apologists and do some real reporting...

    December 26, 2010 at 1:50 am | Reply
  32. Kat

    I think that several people posting have seriously misconstrued Raffa's potential as No 1 in the World. Raffa, does not go down easily. At times he is like that bee that just won't leave you alone! He just keeps on coming, he brings great passion and love to the sport. To post a post that says he is only "just showing up for little matches" and doesn't care about the game....all I can say is Wow.
    And of course, Play on Raffa. We love you. Besides just watching one of the best players of all time, we love your passion for the Game; and your Country both of which are clear as day to me!

    Kat in the US

    December 27, 2010 at 1:47 am | Reply
  33. tettylds

    Last year people said Nadal had done... then he came back with winning the 3 consequtive slams.... he will always come back stronger until he gets old.... For me Nadal is the best player that I have ever seen playing the game.... The mentality, stamina, quickness is really really the best ever....

    December 28, 2010 at 5:39 am | Reply
  34. kenny

    i respect Roger F. with all humility. No doubt he has done what no other has ever done in the game of tennis. Of a truth he came he saw and he conquered. But without missing words Rafal Nadal is my man. I like his aggressiveness, his humility, and approach to the game, he just loves to play and win irrespective of his status in the game. Rafal is my man of the year.

    December 30, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Reply
  35. vincevlv

    the only thing that Nadal will do this year is skip some minor tournaments and he'll be fine,as for Fededer ,he's a really good player but his best are just way behind him, and him No.1 this year? Get real.

    December 31, 2010 at 2:56 am | Reply
  36. MADONNA

    According to WTA Tour (women's tour) website, it actually states that Azarenka is 5' 10" (1.80 m)???

    December 31, 2010 at 9:10 pm | Reply

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