November 26th, 2009
10:55 PM ET

Is Rafael Nadal a spent force?

Rafa Nadal's performances at the ATP World Tour Finals in London have raised serious question marks about the Spaniard's well-being.

Can Rafael Nadal ever return to his former heights again?
Can Rafael Nadal ever return to his former heights again?

Nadal began 2009 in superb style, beating Roger Federer to win the Australian Open title, taking him one tournament away from a clean sweep of slams.

His displays over the last year had taken the Spaniard to number one in the world rankings and all the locker-room mummerings were about Federer's possible demise and Nadal's increasing superiority.

Yet, the last seven months have seen a complete turnaround in the fortunes of the Majorcan.

A stunning defeat at the hands of Robin Soderling saw Nadal's seemingly invincible reign as French Open champion come to a crashing end - leaving the way open for Federer to snatch the one title that had always eluded him and take back the No.1 ranking in the process.

How had Nadal gone from this unbeatable powerhouse, to looking vulnerable, in the blink of an eye?

Well the answer soon became appearent when it was revealed Nadal was suffering from a crippling knee injury that would mean he could not defend his Wimbledon title, an absence that Federer took advantage of to take back his SW19 title in dramatic fashion.

With injuries so commonplace in modern tennis, I reckon it takes a really bad one to stop somebody competing in the most prestigious tournament in the world - especially when they are the defending champion.

And since his return to the ATP Tour, Nadal has looked a pale shadow of his former self. To be beaten in straight sets by both Soderling and Nikolay Davydenko in London is not the form of a man ranked second in the world.

Nadal prides himself on his upper body strength. His power and physique is something to behold and made him the player that took the tennis world by storm.

But while your upper body can be strengthened permanently, the knee cannot. Could it be that years of pumping iron and making his upper body stronger have placed too much strain on Nadal's lower body?

Could his knees be showing the wear and tear of coming into the sport so early and generating the immense power that is needed for those stunning clay-court ground-strokes.

On faster surfaces, Nadal is now just another player. If he does not perform to his previous imperious clay-court best, following the winter break, maybe he never will.

The acid test will be Roland Garros 2010.

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Filed under:  Tennis
November 26th, 2009
11:56 AM ET

Liverpool must be careful in rebuilding process

Firstly, let's face it, managers have been fired for less, and I think in a perfect world Liverpool would get rid of Benitez, because his team is not achieving on the pitch and he seems unable to attract the kind of players, Fernando Torres aside, that can change the situation.

Selling Fernando Torres to fund reinforcements will hurt Liverpool more than help.
Selling Fernando Torres to fund reinforcements will hurt Liverpool more than help.

But I don't think Liverpool will get rid of him in a hurry because they cannot afford the compensation, and there is not a ready replacement available. Jose Mourinho and Louis Van Gaal are only in the frame because they're failing almost as badly as Rafa in the Champions League, so the Reds may think better the devil they know.

But, rebuilding of sorts is necessary, and this is the time to do it because their only real distraction will come in the battle to make the top-four in the English Premier League to qualify for next year's Champions League.

As much as players pay lip-service to the F.A Cup and Europa League those competitions are peripheral to the real business, at least for a club like Liverpool that believes it should challenge for the top honors. So now would be the perfect time to build for the future.

I'm not sure that selling Torres would be a good idea, even if he did raise $120 million. Spending just that much on a handful of players would only get the kind of mediocre players Liverpool have, with the exception of Torres himself, been buying for the last few years, and that clearly isn't good enough.

Therefore, whether Benitez stays or someone else comes in, he'll still have the same old problem - insufficient money and a general lack of quality players. So selling Torres or even Gerard would be cutting off your nose to spite your face. Better to accept the season as a bust, and look to the next two transfer windows for some bargains, like Arsene Wenger does at Arsenal.

The Gunners have long since accepted that they are NOT Chelsea or Manchester City in terms of finances, and that they are NOT Manchester United in terms of prestige. As a result they can't easily acquire the big-name players. But what they have done is become canny and astute in the players they do buy and in the way they deploy them, which is something Benitez is not. Like I said, it's time for Liverpool to reassess, with or without Rafa.

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Filed under:  Football