Originally written on The Sports Headquarters  |  Last updated 10/21/12

Regardless of the complaints that some have against him, Rafael Nadal is a great tennis player. He is an 11-time Grand Slam champion and probably the undisputed greatest clay court player ever. He is a fierce competitor and never gives up in a match. All of these qualities make him great. None of them, however, make him indispensable to the sport.
Tennis has survived injuries to great players before. Top players have missed tournaments and Slams and people were disappointed, but no one stopped watching. Other greats stepped up and fans enjoyed watching other players step up and other rivalries blossom. Indeed, the domination of the tour by so few people-that began with Federer and Nadal in 2004 and continues today with them, Djokovic, and Murray-is somewhat of a novelty in this sport. Yes, there are consistently great players. But there are usually other guys who can step up and win.
So why is Nadal’s current absence hurting tennis? We still have other great guys (Federer, Djokovic, Murray) who are dominating the tour. We still have entertaining matches and lower-tier players playing their hearts out daily. We still have top tournaments and top venues that are fun to travel to and fun to watch on television. So what is tennis losing without Nadal right now?
In a way, the domination by the “Big 4″ has made them dependent on each other. Not in their ability to play, certainly, but in their ability to keep fans’ interest. Federer always drew a following as a great champion, but it was his epic rivalry with Nadal that drew hardcore interest from many casual fans. Djokovic basically took over this sport last year, but it was Nadal who he had to face in the final of just about every big tournament he was in.
These are players that fans want to see go at it. For most casual fans, it’s no longer about the sport or even the level of play. It’s about the rivalries. That is what the media has built this sport around in the last decade or longer and they have really sold this sport on rivalries. Fans want to see rivalries. They look at tournaments expecting Nadal and Djokovic to meet in the final and are disappointed when it doesn’t happen.
The modern hardcore tennis fans are the same as they always were. They will watch the smaller tournaments. They enjoy seeing players in the lower half of the top 100 do well. Some will even watch Challengers if it’s an entertaining matchup. But the hardcore tennis fans are not the ones that drive the sport. The sport is driven by television money-and that comes from massive international audiences on TennisChannel, ESPN, Eurosport, etc.
And these audiences are not so interested in seeing top 100, or even top 10, players. These audiences want to see the great players beat up the lesser players and then face off against each other in what will go down as another epic in a great rivalry. And so for these fans, tennis needs Nadal. Fans want to see Nadal play Federer. They want to see Nadal play Djokovic. But mostly, they just want to see Nadal play. He was one of the two names in tennis (until last year, now Djokovic and perhaps even Murray have joined this group) that would be recognized by almost anyone, even a complete non-tennis fan. And that means that he is one of the few players who can draw eyes to television sets no matter who he is playing. And, whether you love Nadal or hate him, that is a factor that cannot be underestimated. And it is a factor that means that these tournaments at the end of the year will have fewer television viewers than usual, because one of the top 2 marketable names in tennis isn’t competing in them.

GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Mark Sanchez says it ‘crazy’ to call Chip Kelly racist

Malcolm Butler daring Brady to throw his way in practice

Geno Smith confident worst is behind him and the Jets

Ronda Rousey knocks out Bethe Correia in 34 seconds

Von Miller earns dismissal from NFL’s drug program

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Ian Kennedy watches birth of daughter on FaceTime before start

Matt Williams wants Bryce Harper to stop getting ejected

Five most underrated players in the NFL

Larry Lucchino stepping down as Red Sox CEO

Las Vegas Mob Museum to open FIFA corruption exhibit

Does NFL have a motive to settle with Tom Brady?

WATCH: Benches clear during Royals-Blue Jays game

Jim Harbaugh gives Nicki Minaj a shoutout on Twitter

The Kardashian sisters still call Caitlyn Jenner 'Bruce'

Tennessee fan recreates Neyland Stadium in backyard

Lolo Jones: I could last at least a minute against Rousey

Bears have very strict rules for media during training camp

Jamaal Charles: I feel like I'm the LeBron James of football

Ronda Rousey: I'll fight Cyborg if she stops taking steroids

Danny Garcia beats Paulie Malignaggi, remains undefeated

Bobby Wagner, Seahawks agree to contract extension

Blount won't talk about reported failed conditioning test

Greg Hardy helps pay Cowboys fans to fly anti-Eagles banner

Tennis News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Sanchez: It's 'crazy' to call Chip racist

Ronda Rousey calls out Cyborg

Five most underrated players in the NFL

Five potential NFL salary cap casualties this preseason

Winners and losers of the 2015 MLB trade deadline

Pirates do Pirates at deadline: Neat little moves

Mets acquire Cespedes from Tigers

Ranking the NFL’s 32 head coaches

Five worst baseball trades since 2000

Examining the state of the NFL

Puig: Broke out of slump by playing baseball video games

Braves dump risk, exchange it for risk

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker