What does a horror film mean? A skilled makeup artist helps, just like a scary background score. The characters of the psychological deviant also add emotion, and if you can throw a bunch of twisted and inexplicable phenomena, the better. But everything would be null if the movie does not have a complicated and unpredictable plot.
What does a horror movie mean? All the above items, with only the last missing. Nobody likes to see anything that follows a predictable pattern; even our thirst for sadomasochistic hope can not compensate for the expected tragedy.
It's tempting to think of Rafael Nadal's meeting with the ATP finals as the worst kind of horror movie anyone can ever do.
The news of its withdrawal in the 2018 edition broke out on Monday and was not even a surprise. Nadal took it out of the Masters of Paris just a few days ago, quoting an abdominal lesion he had taken while practicing at Bercy yards. And having just returned from another crash – the knee issue that exploded at the US Open – it's always been a race against time to make it fit for the eight-person tournament that starts in London this week.
After making the grim announcement on Facebook, Nadal also suffered a minor surgery to remove a floating free particle in the right ankle joint. Surgery has gone well, but it will take several weeks to recover from – to add to the abdomen and knees problems that the Spaniard is already facing.
Yes, it's a nightmare. Some might even call it a horror show. But, as the last decade and a half have shown, it is a terrible show of exception, because it is so predictable.
The first time Nadal qualified for the final was in 2005 and qualified each year since then. But you can count on one hand whenever it was 100% suitable for the showpiece event of the ATP. From 2005 to 2018, he withdrew seven times. And in the other seven editions he actually played, he was at the best physical level only four times – in 2006, 2007, 2010 and 2013.
That's why it's disturbing: 10 out of 14 times that Nadal qualified for the final, was prevented from taking a legitimate blow to the title. The wounds were of a different nature, but their time was almost uniformly mechanical. Every year, in autumn, we find out about a new physical disaster that broke out in Nadal's life, which invariably escapes his plans to win the last piece of silver missing from his cabinet.
If you were one for superstition or mystic arts, you would think Nadal's attempt to win the ATP Finals was cursed. But even that could have done for a more welcome, if a little ridiculous story. The reality is far more depressing: given the physical limitations and Nadal's style, year-end championships are just one mountain too far.
For a man of Nadal's fitness levels, season play should not be theoretically an impossible task. But we forget that he has Kohler's disease and chronic knee tendonitis, which tends to become more and more painful as the amount of work increases.
There is a reason why Nadal always looks better at the beginning of the year than the end. The ankle and knee strain continues to develop throughout the season and becomes insignificantly exacerbated when playing on difficult and difficult surfaces (read: grass and rapid rainbow usually found in the second half of the tennis calendar).
Then, the fact that the hardcore interior does not exactly match Nadal's style of play, even when it's at its most fresh. Nadal's game thrives best when it's left outdoors, helped and urged by the elements of nature. But when locked in an indoor location, the topspin on the gunfire is robbed of some of his pop, and the explosive nature of his footwork is terrified. In this respect, winning the ATP final – which is always on the inside, considering it is part of the fall crash – will always be a particularly difficult task for Nadal.
Whose idea of entertainment was to make an inherently difficult and more difficult proposal by adding regular, uncontrollable and painful handicaps? It's almost as if Fate looked down at Nadal, saw her struggling with the unique challenges of indoor tennis, rubbed her hands together and said, "Here's something fresh for you. that you beat this very ugly whore. It's so fun to see you suffer like that!
Pleasant fun does not suffocate any more than that.
Nadal will have 33 years until the next year's championship is held. 33 is not over the hill in the modern age, but its task will become more difficult with each passing year. To really challenge the ATP Finals in the future, Nadal will have to be not only in good shape throughout the year to build enough momentum for London, but it will also have to be in peak physical condition to the end season. This last requirement is particularly worrying.
Nadal was brilliant every time he took the court in 2018. He lost only four games throughout the year, and his only hardcourt losses came through retirement. Never before, the Spaniard did not last until September, with so few losses so hard, and he led such an impressive head of steam. Moreover, this year's competition is considerably lower, with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer the only real competitors.
Was it the last chance of Nadal in 2018 to win the ATP Finals, a chance that was again cruelly hit by him?
There is a silver lining in all this, if it's very poor. As we shake hands in frustration with the injustice of all, it is very likely that man himself is not too worked right now. Nadal once said that he learned to enjoy suffering. On another occasion, after resisting a midfield injury, he said, "This is part of life, it's part of the sport, it's not the end of the world, it's just another difficult time." Why would it treat this disaster? most different?
Knowing that Nadal is probably in peace with his particularly terrible luck at the ATP Finals is the only thing that makes this episode a bit less painful. It's still like a bad horror film, but at least it's a horror movie where the hero lives to fight another day.