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Can Nadal battle the pain and retire on his terms?

Can Nadal battle the pain and retire on his terms?

The French Open has a build-up unlike the other Slams. It takes time, even for the best in the business, to adjust to the slow and slippery clay after playing on hard courts for the first three months of the year. April onwards, leading up to Roland-Garros, the ATP Tour had scheduled seven 250 (Houston, Marrakech, Estoril, Munich, Banja Luka, Geneva, Lyon), one 500 (Barcelona) and three Masters 1000 (Monte Carlo, Madrid and Rome) events this year.

The pertinent question

However, the conversation regarding the clay Major had begun in January itself when Rafael Nadal, defending Australian Open champion, went down 4-6, 4-6, 5-7 to USA’s Mackenzie “Mackie” McDonald in the second round in Melbourne while also sustaining a hip injury — will he make it to Paris, the city where he has lifted the coveted La Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy a record 14 times?

The Spaniard, who turns 37 next month, has had bad luck in Australia with injuries in 2010 (right knee), 2011 (hamstring), 2013 (stomach virus), 2014 (back) and 2018 (right leg). But unlike those seasons, Nadal’s return to court kept getting delayed this year as he continued to recover from the hip flexor issue and missed all clay events.

Eventually, last Thursday, in a press conference at his academy in Manacor, Mallorca, the former World No. 1 said, “The evolution of the injury I sustained in Australia has not gone as I would have liked. I have lost goals along the way, and Roland-Garros becomes impossible.”

Nadal had twice missed his French Open debut — with a right elbow injury in 2003 and stress fracture in 2004 — until he finally mesmerised the Parisian crowd with his dazzling performance as a teenager in 2005. Since then, he has been a constant presence at Roland-Garros with his phenomenal record extending year-by-year.

This time, in his absence, the men’s field has only two former champions — Serbia’s Novak Djokovic (2016, 2021) and Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka (2015).

Top seed Carlos Alcaraz, who was a two-year-old when compatriot Nadal won in 2005, and other players like Stefanos Tsitsipas, Holger Rune and Casper Ruud will fancy their chances.

Nadal, however, expects the tournament to be “a big success”. “Roland-Garros will always be Roland-Garros with or without me… there will be a new champion.”

Nadal’s body finally says ‘no’

When Nadal had burst onto the scene, there were questions regarding how sustainable his style of play would be in the long run.

Ouch, that hurts! Nadal has been forced to miss a few Grand Slams due to injury, Roland-Garros and Wimbledon 2023 the latest.


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