As injured Rafael Nadal ends season, fascinating questions arise

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Persistent left wrist concerns have sidelined Rafael Nadal for the remainder of the season. (AP)

Fourteen-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal hinted that he might call it an injury-filled year at the Shanghai Masters, after losing in the second round. Today, he did just that.

In a Facebook post, Nadal, who withdrew from the French Open with a left wrist injury and returned in time for the Olympic Games—where he reached the semifinals—attributed his plight to a desire to compete for Spain in Rio:

It is no secret that I arrived to the Olympic Games short of preparation and not fully recovered, but the goal was to compete and win a medal for Spain. This forced recovery has caused me pain since then and now I am forced to stop and start preparing the 2017 season. I am very saddened for not being able to play next week in Basel since I have a great memory of the tournament and the final played against Roger Federer last year. I won’t be able to compete either in Paris-Bercy, where the crowds and the FFT staff have always treated me so well. Now it is time to rest and start preparing intensively the 2017 season.

The Twitter response to Nadal’s decision to shut down his season gave us some nuggets to consider:

It’s been the Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray show on tour for some time now, and the absence of both men during this indoor season only accentuates that.

Forget the Kyrgios remark. In a Federer- and Nadal-less ATP World Tour Finals, could a Berdych, Goffin or Cilic not only qualify, but do well? If Cilic, currently 11th in the Race to London, were to qualify, he’d become the proverbial dangerous floater. He’s had a strong season under the radar, and his serve would do damage on the O2’s hard courts.

How about that stat? My immediate response: I wish the tours would hold their flagship tournaments at the beginning, rather than the end, of a season. It would give tennis a true opening-day feel and showcase the game’s biggest stars, all rested and ready to return. Rather than scattering the start of the season at largely unknown tournaments around the world, why not draw eyes to two loaded events?

There could be some crazy—like, Grand Slam-final-level crazy—early-round matches in Melbourne. Let your imagination run wild.

Could Murray claim the year-end No. 1 ranking by default? Judging by Djokovic’s remarks and actions—remember this?—since the U.S. Open, he might see merit in this option. Given the Uniqlo-sponsored Djokovic’s financial interests in the Asian market, I don’t see it actually happening, but I’m guessing his camp has considered it.

I’ll go back to Ben Rothenberg for the last point to consider: Is the Big 4 no more? This is a question we’ve been posing and trying to answer for years, each time a member of the quartet takes a tumble. But it bears asking once again. The 2016 season has certainly been the most damaging campaign to the Big 4 brand, given the unusual ranking positions Federer and Nadal currently occupy and their minimal impacts on the tennis year as a whole. Federer is 35; Nadal is 30.

Given the countless comebacks both men have made throughout their careers, you don’t want to declare the quartet’s reign over until we seen another year of slippage. But it’s becoming harder and harder to see their hegemony at its peak ever again.

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