Realistic targets for Rafael Nadal and Emma Raducanu as new comeback footage is released
The tennis world is holding its breath ahead of the return of Rafael Nadal and Emma Raduvanu, but what are the realistic expectations for the returning Grand Slam champions?
Nadal will make his comeback following a year out at the Brisbane International later this month.
The 22-time Grand Slam champion has not played a competitive match since suffering a hip injury during his second-round defeat by Mackenzie McDonald at the Australian Open in January.
Having initially hoped the lay-off may only be a few weeks, Nadal admitted in May that he was staring at the end of his career and that he hoped to be able to play a final year on tour in 2024.
He had surgery in June and has been gradually building up to a return that he has now announced will be at the Brisbane International, a key warm-up event for the Australian Open, beginning on December 31.
Meanwhile, 2021 US Open champion Raducanu will make her comeback at the ASB Classic in Auckland next month.
The 21-year-old has not played a match since a heavy loss to Jelena Ostapenko in Stuttgart in April. She subsequently withdrew from the Madrid Open and opted to undergo surgery on both wrists and one ankle.
Having initially targeted a comeback in late summer or early autumn, Raducanu has ended up missing the rest of the 2023 season.
Until recently there were doubts over whether she would make the start of next year but those have eased in recent weeks as she has stepped up her training.
And it has now been announced she will play at the WTA tournament in New Zealand beginning on January 1.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM NADAL?
History may suggest he can aim for the stars at the Australian Open, given his achievements at the 2022 edition of the tournament.
The Spanish legend bounced back from a lengthy spell out with injury to win the title in sensational fashion almost two years ago and his fans will be hoping for a repeat next month.
Yet that is not realistic this time around for a couple of reasons.
Nadal has been out for a whole year this time and had real doubts over his ability to make a return to the game.
In addition, his ageing body is now two years further advanced and has been through a lot after a year on the sidelines that included surgery on his troublesome hip.
As Andy Murray will confirm, injuries that region are a major problem for tennis players and it explains why Nadal has taken so long to return to the court.
A practice point from Nadal and Fils 🔥
Those forehands from Rafa 🔨
📸 sofiaaa8 IG pic.twitter.com/xPHsxicFZF
— Olly 🎾🇬🇧 (@Olly_Tennis_) December 8, 2023
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM RADUCANU?
It is hard to have any expectations for the former British No 1.
Since winning the US Open in one of the greatest tennis stories of all-time, his youngster has lived through an entire career in a little over two years.
Her rise to global superstar status was always going to be tough to handle and she instantly had huge demands placed on her by sponsors who handed over millions to be part of the next great story in women’s sport.
Inevitably, the circus around Raducanu took its toll and we have yet to see what she is capable of on court as she has been troubled by injuries and dips in form since that amazing US Open win.
She has taken her time coming back from injury and appears to be ramping up her workload ahead of a return next month.
Brits getting in some reps at the National Tennis Centre 👊 pic.twitter.com/PatLFNToMK
— LTA (@the_LTA) December 8, 2023
WHAT DOES SUCCESS LOOK LIKE FOR RAFA AND EMMA?
The bar of expectations may be different for these two star names, but it shouldn’t be.
Nadal’s incredible history over the last two decades means we will expect him to challenge for the Australian Open, even though he will be unseeded and could face old foe Novak Djokovic in the first round.
Success for Nadal in his comeback Grand Slam would be a run to the quarter-finals, as that would mean he has beaten at least one top 10 player and possibly more.
For Raducanu, the expectations should be even lower.
Her form on the WTA Tour in 2022 was inconsistent and while her run to the fourth round at Indian Wells last March was evidence that she can compete in the biggest tournaments when she is at her best, this is very much the start of a second career for Emma.
She will always be a Grand Slam champion and that amazing moment in New York can never be taken away from her, but she is starting again with virtually no WTA ranking points and needs to edge her way back into action.
If Raducanu can finish 2024 in the top 40 on the WTA rankings, that would represent a solid year for a player who has yet to prove she can consistently win on the game’s biggest stages.
Modest expectations would be more workable for Nadal and Raducanu, but great champions never operate with such limited boundaries.
That’s why the sporting world will be watching when these two stars get back on court.
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