(AP) — For months, Rafael Nadal waited for his body to heal. He waited until he could push around the court at full speed, with full energy, which led him to a record 14 French Open titles and a total of 22 Grand Slam titles.
He finally admitted on Thursday that it won’t be in time for Roland Garros, where play starts in 10 days – and while he’s not entirely sure when he’ll fully recover from his lingering hip injury, Nadal said he expects to return to at some point and will likely end his career in 2024.
Speaking at a press conference at his tennis academy in Manacor, Spain, Nadal announced that he would miss the French Open tennis courts for the first time since his debut in 2005. his future in a sport where he and Big Three rivals Roger Federer, who retired last year, and Novak Djokovic have ruled for decades.
“You can’t demand more from your body because there comes a point when your body raises the white flag,” said Nadal, who sat alone on stage wearing jeans and a white polo shirt as the media session was broadcast live in Spain through the state broadcaster’s 24-hour sports network. “Even if your head wants to keep going, your body says that’s all it can do.”
He did not give a date for his return to tennis, but said it would likely take months.
“You never know how things will turn out,” said Nadal, who answered questions in English, Spanish and the local Mallorcan dialect, “but my intention is for next year to be my last year.”
He made one thing clear: he doesn’t want to bow like that with a microphone in his left hand instead of a racket. He was still the best player, playing every point as if it were his last, as if the outcome could depend on each swing.
This hard charging style was at the heart of his brilliance on the court – and perhaps also contributed to a series of injuries over the years.
“I don’t deserve,” said Nadal, “to end my career like this, in a press conference.”
He is just 1-3 this season and has lost seven of his last nine matches, including a fourth-round loss to Frances Tiafoe in the fourth round of the US Open last September.
The Spaniard has not competed anywhere since losing to Mackie McDonald in the second round of the Australian Open on January 18, when his movements were noticeably restricted by a troublesome left hip flexor. It was Nadal’s earliest Grand Slam exit since 2016.
An MRI scan the next day revealed the extent of the injury, and his manager said at the time that Nadal would need up to two months to fully recover. He originally intended to compete at the Monte Carlo Masters in March on his beloved red clay but was unable to play there, then sat out tournament after tournament, making it less likely he would be ready for the French Open.
One thing is that Nadal loses more often and in earlier rounds than usual in his illustrious career – one in which his 22 major titles are tied with Djokovic by a man (Federer won 20) and includes a total of 92 trophies and over 1,000 wins in matches at the tournament level.
An entirely different thing is Nadal’s absence at Roland Garros, where he made 18 consecutive appearances and won 112 of his 115 career matches. He lifted the trophy in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2022 when he became the oldest champion in the history of the tournament.
A tweet posted on the French Open account on Thursday to “Rafa” read: “We can’t imagine how difficult this decision was. We will definitely miss you at this year’s Roland-Garros. Take care to come back stronger to the courts. Hope to see you next year in Paris.”
Nadal’s birthday falls on June 3, when he would normally be playing a third-round match at Philippe Chatrier in a few weeks.
Instead, Nadal will be absent from Paris this time around. It looks like she’ll be saying goodbye to the tennis tour for good soon.
“Tournaments are forever; players play and leave. So Roland Garros will always be Roland Garros, with or without me, no doubt. The tournament will continue to be the ultimate clay court event and a new Roland Garros champion will emerge – and it won’t be me,” said Nadal. “And that’s life.”
Source: Associated Press