As he was facing Fabio Fognini in the semi-finals of the Miami Open, Rafael Nadal lost his shoe, trying to return one of the Italian’s perfect drop shots. A pretty rare and funny event which can be explained by many different reasons. But which can never happen again.
After neatly putting his hair behind his ears, pulling down his shorts, placing the bottles in an exact position, or cleaning the white lines on the court, Rafael Nadal might have found a new routine. As the great perfectionist that he is, the Spaniard might now start to lace his shoes regularly, in order to avoid the little incident, which looked funny at first, which happened to him against Fabio Fognini, during the semi-final won in Miami. In the middle of a match where he was continuously trying drop shots (6-1, 3-3), the Italian managed to unsettle his opponent, who tried to run up to the net to defend, but lost his shoe on his first step, only to watch the ball land at the exact opposite of the court. Seeing a right shoe on the court, Fognini smiled. Unlike his opponent, who didn’t find the anecdote so funny.
And he has the right to be annoyed : if Nadal lost his shoe, it’s not just by accident. “At that level, it’s really surprising, says Caroline Michel-Prenveille, an osteopath who specializes in human movement and sports training. It never happens and it must not happen. Especially as they have time to properly lace their shoes during the change of ends. And knowing Nadal, who is very meticulous, something must have forced him to loosen his shoelaces.” The first observation, which comes as a self-evident fact : Rafa’s shoelaces weren’t tied properly. Except that according to Etienne Tourolle, a physiotherapist who treats tennis players every day, the player who lost the final against Roger Federer might have not felt it : “You have to find the right balance, so that the shoe doesn’t hurt the athlete, but holds the foot correctly at the same time. If it’s too tight, you’ll feel pain. But if it’s too loose, you might not feel it.”
“He was maybe testing a new 'version'”
OK. But the main question still remains : why did Nadal, who usually pays attention to the slightest detail, suddenly choose to loosen up his shoelaces at that moment of the match ? There are many different possible reasons. First, his shoes might have been a new edition. “Usually, professional players know their shoes, and they have tested it before a tournament. But he was maybe testing a new “version”, says Caroline, who also plays tennis. We usually believe that new editions are identical to the previous ones if it’s the same brand. But the slightest changes on the new model can be a source of pain.” Here’s a factor which could explain why the Roland-Garros lover would have decided to loosen up his shoelaces a little. Another possible answer, according to the osteopath, would be a small injury. “Maybe he hurt his foot, he felt pain on his ankle before the match, or hurt his toe during the match. In any case, a small part of his foot could have swollen.” The result : the shoe becomes uncomfortable, and its owner has the reflex of loosening his shoelaces to give his painful foot a little more freedom.
The only problem is that giving your foot too much freedom can actually harm your body. The risks of injury are in fact much higher when the foot isn’t tightly held by the shoe. “When your shoe is too loose, you can sprain your ankle, but you can also fall because you’ve suddenly lost your shoe, says Etienne Tourolle. Actually, during the whole match, your body will try to compensate unconsciously, and contract your foot muscles so it doesn’t slip out of the shoe. Your re-balanced foot position will be much less efficient.” Tying his shoelaces properly and keeping an eye on them might sound like a childish piece of advice, but it still counts at the highest level. So which kind of shoes must be chosen ? On this point, the physio insists on choosing “minimalist” tennis shoes, which have the distinctive feature (among others), of having a greater flexibility and a slimmer heel (contrary to the more famous “maximalist” shoes). “If you’re playing with “thick” heels, the extension of your ankle will be more important, so you might lose your shoe more easily. When you’re wrong-footed, the extension of your ankle will even be increased, so you’ll have a greater risk of spraining your ankle. Your calf muscles will have to do more work. You lose much less energy with a minimalist shoe.” How about going back to Velcro closure shoes ?