In case you don’t have time to just read the first paragraph on your phone in these distracted times, here are Rafael Nadal’s gists: This year will be the first time since 2004 that the French Open will not be held. No retirement yet.
But of course, there’s more to Nadal’s story, especially at Roland Garros, the Grand Slam tournament Nadal won like no other tennis major.
His 14 single titles still seem like typos, even to someone like me who’s seen them build from redbrick to redbrick a record that’s probably unbreakable.
“When you play 14 times at Roland Garros, you tell yourself that you’ve had a good career,” French veteran Nicolas Mahut said in an interview with L’Equipe. “If you win 14 games there, it’s not that bad. In week two, when he gets to 14, you’re one of the great players. And when you win the title 14 times, you understand it. There is no way, there are no words.”
Nadal is Spanish, but even the French Open organizers have withstood the weight of all the hardware and erected a gleaming, larger-than-life statue of Nadal just inside the main entrance to the tournament grounds.
Full of bicep flexes, forehand winners and underrated court techniques, his Paris reign is one of the greatest achievements in any sport, and his 15th at this late stage. Winning a title is a long way off, but all we know for sure is that Nadal will definitely win. We won’t win this year.
He announced his withdrawal from this year’s French Open at a press conference Thursday at his eponymous academy, another monument to his tennis excellence, in his hometown of Manacor.
Nadal, who turns 37 on June 3, wears jeans and a white short-sleeved shirt after losing a recent race against time, which means he hasn’t fully recovered from a core injury he suffered in January. explained calmly and at length. to play at the Australian Open.
“This was not a decision I made, it was a decision my body made,” he said.
Nadal is only interested in playing when he still has a chance to win, and will likely stop practicing for extended periods of several months due to pain. He did not rule out a return to competition in late 2023, referring to the Davis Cup final in Malaga, Spain, in November, but said above all, “probably” it would be his last. Aiming to make a comeback in another match. 2024 season.
“I don’t want to put myself in a position to say one thing and do another, but my goal and ambition is to stop and give myself the chance to enjoy the next year.” He sighed mid-sentence and said, It’s like I’m fighting myself to talk about the finish line.
A more combustible tennis champion, John McEnroe used press conferences as therapy, working through his own problems and setbacks through a question-and-answer game. Nadal, who arched his left brow, did a similar thing on Thursday and, unlike McEnroe, he speaks Spanish, English, and Mallorcan, the dialect of Nadal’s home island and the lingua franca of the Nadal family. did it in words.
Whatever the language, the message was the same. Nadal is tired of gritting his teeth in practice, but he longs for a happier ending.
Given that his body is declining at an accelerating rate, there are no guarantees. Injured frequently from a young age, he has another injury in his area of expertise in tennis. He suffered a broken rib and abdominal injury in 2022, a hip injury in 2023, and a mid-game injury during a straight-sets loss to Mackenzie McDonald in the second round. in Australia.
Perhaps Nadal shouldn’t have played through that pain, but he’s as gritty as the red dirt that best suits his game. And even if you’re a newlywed, new father, own a luxury yacht, and have a great golf handicap, are you ready to join the golden retirement of his friend and former arch-rival Roger Federer? Not yet.
“At the press conference, I don’t think I deserve a result like this,” Nadal said. “I want a different ending and I will do my best to make it happen.”
He added, “I don’t know if I’m competitive enough to win a Grand Slam. I’m not an irrational person. I know the situation is difficult. But I’m not a negative person either.” I want to give them a chance to come back and compete.”
Farewell tours come with risks. Former world No. 1 from Sweden and six-time Grand Slam singles champion Stefan Edberg announced long ago that 1996 would be his final season, but he regretted the post-match ceremony and kindness after being exhausted. I decided to When Edberg coached Federer, he advised him to keep the bouts short to be gentler, and Federer listened. He left the club abruptly last September at the age of 41 to play doubles with Nadal at the Laver Cup in London.
Federer called it a career, and it was a shocking scene that brought both champions and many spectators to tears. Most other tennis greats, from Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras to Steffi Graf and Serena Williams, have kept their goodbyes compact. For Sampras, he avoided the farewell tour entirely and won his final tournament, the 2002 US Open.
But Nadal is certainly used to bearing the weight of others’ expectations and handling the limelight gracefully. He has been a domestic star since helping Spain win the Davis Cup in 2004 at the age of 18 as they beat the USA, and has been a global star since winning the French Open in 2005 when he made his field debut at the age of 19. has become a star.
He would have won Roland Garros much earlier had he not missed the event through injury in 2003 and 2004. However, despite all the physical challenges he faced, he managed to qualify for his signature tournament for 18 consecutive years, withdrawing midway through the tournament due to his wrist injury in 2016. Only once.
He’s as much a part of the Roland Garros landscape as the red clay under your feet, but this spring it’s going to be someone’s domain.
Novak Djokovic, who turns 36 on Monday, is the only player to beat Nadal twice at the French Open and shares the men’s record of 22 Grand Slam singles titles. But Djokovic, with his springy limbs and physique that can withstand the diet of a 100-year-old, has been plagued by a sore elbow in his side, making him less than attractive on the clay courts this season.
Younger sets seem to have a slight advantage. Carlos Alcaraz, 20, is already a Grand Slam champion after winning last year’s US Open and returning to the No. 1 ranking. Holger Roon, 20, who beat Djokovic in Rome this week, also has springy limbs of his own. Adding Stefanos Tsitsipas, Casper Ruud, Yannik Sinner or former clay-allergic Daniil Medvedev to the shortlist does not rule out the possibility of a bigger surprise.
Nadal, who missed the draw for the first time in almost 20 years, said he wouldn’t watch everything from afar, but would keep an eye on it.
When Djokovic missed the 2022 Australian Open last year because he arrived in Melbourne without a coronavirus vaccine and was deported, pro-Djokovic rallied for stressing that no tournament is bigger than one player. It drew criticism from all quarters.
“The Australian Open is going to be a great Australian Open with or without him,” Nadal said before winning.
But he was clearly eager to maintain a consistent performance on Thursday.
“My speech is not going to change,” he said. “Roland Garros will always be Roland Garros, with or without me.”
He continued: “Players stay for a while, then they leave. The tournament stays forever.”
It’s true, and it will look even more true when another man in red socks takes the crown next month in Paris. But as long as Roland Garros exists, there is no doubt that Nadal and Roland Garros will be linked.