Vulnerable and Rafa Nadal do not belong in the same sentence. Yet the 9 times champion finds himself approaching the French Open at Roland Garros more susceptible to defeat than perhaps ever before. He has just this week been beaten - on clay - by a player you have never heard of (unless you are a tennis fan).
The experts will now talk about his experience, his focus, his ability to call on enormous reserves of strength, endurance and concentration to make that 9 a magic 10.
They will also talk about his injuries.
Win or lose, what they will not talk about is his diet.
At 28 years of age, Rafa is entering the autumn of a career played at a blistering pace in what has been an astounding era for men’s tennis. In ATP Tour face-offs, he leads elder Greatsman Roger Federer (17-7) and his age-group peer Novak Djokovic (22-21).
What those statistics do not reveal is Djokovic’s dominance in recent years. Despite losing both their encounters in 2010, Djoko leads him 15-6 since.
That the Djoko of today is a very different animal than the fragile player we saw emerge in the noughties may now hold a useful message for Nadal.
“Even Roger Federer who is so gentlemanly dismissed me saying he thought I was a joke when it came to my injuries.” Novak Djokovic
Take your pick from landmark, watershed or tipping point - but since 2010 when the Joker ditched gluten (and his father’s famous pizza) in favor of whole foods he has won 7 of his 8 grand slams. When he talks about that “anecdotal” development, it is with genuine sincerity and gratitude for the gifts he believe it has brought him.
He is literally a different player.
Dr Peter Brukner recently spoke openly (without naming the player) about one Australian cricketer’s remarkable recovery from an arthritic knee condition requiring $15,000 of pharmaceutical treatment per annum. To the knowledge of very few, Dr Brukner had been treating the player regularly to facilitate his ability to play the game he loves. After adopting a high fat, low carbohydrate, whole foods diet, the player is now excelling free of all medication.
When we interviewed Dr Brukner for “Run on Fat”, he told me it is THE most remarkable turnaround he has seen in a lengthy career on the sidelines of professional field sports. In much the same way that Djoko lights up on the subject, the player himself refers to it as "life changing".
If Nadal is not yet a mirror of the noughties Djoko, he is nonetheless in a state of physical decline. His body is less reliable, displaying the signs of wear, tear and chronic inflammation while sending out ever more regular cries for help in the form of injury.
For the first time in his career, the fix may not be found on the practice court or in the gym. That is a confusing conundrum for any athlete - let alone a Rolls Royce like Nadal - to come to terms with.
That Nadal has more or less dismissed Djoko’s diet suggests he is skeptical about the extent to which real foods can heal, but Djoko is not alone, nor was he the first. The now retired former US No.1 Mardy Fish credits his rejuvenated twilight years on tour to a low carb, whole foods, high fat diet.
Nadal is at deuce with his body. If his pride will not let him look across the net to Djokovic for a solution, it would surely allow him to promote a nationalistic message of Mediterranean health.
A high fat, low carb Mediterranean style diet is proven to reduce inflammatory markers in the body - a benefit that could be enormously helpful to the injury susceptible Nadal. Were the Majorcan matador to tame his chronic symptoms using the healthy high fat foods of his own people, the widespread public health impact of that endorsement will be worth more than the Grand Slam record he would surely claim.
Djoko's remarkable transition was a case of distance diagnosis by TV - a call from Cyprus, some 8700 miles from Melbourne where he was struggling badly in the quarter finals of the 2010 Australian Open - kicked it all off.
That Mediterranean -> Melbourne vibe could work for Rafa too. It just so happens that Dr Peter Brukner (presently celebrating his boys victory in the Cricket World Cup) lives there.
It's deuce. Make that call Rafa.