For months, Rafael Nadal waited for his body to heal. Waited to be able to push himself around a court at full speed, with full energy, of the sort that has carried him to a record 14 titles at the French Open and a total of 22 at all Grand Slam tournaments.
He finally acknowledged Thursday it wasn’t going to happen in time for Roland Garros, where play begins in 10 days — and, while he’s not exactly sure when he will be fully recovered from a lingering hip injury, Nadal said he expects to return to action at some point and probably wrap up his career in 2024.
Speaking at a news conference at his tennis academy in Manacor, Spain, Nadal announced he will miss the clay-court French Open for the first time since making his debut — and, naturally, claiming the trophy — there in 2005. He also spoke about his future in a sport that he and Big Three rivals Roger Federer, who retired last year, and Novak Djokovic have ruled for decades.
“You can´t keep demanding more and more from your body, because there comes a moment when your body raises a white flag,” said Nadal, who sat alone on a stage, wearing jeans and a white polo shirt, as his session with the media was carried live in Spain by the state broadcaster’s 24-hour sports network. “Even though your head wants to keep going, your body says this is as far it goes.”
He did not offer a date for his return to the tennis tour, but said it is likely to 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 that next year will be my last year.”
One thing he made clear: He does not want to bow out like this, holding a microphone in his left hand instead of a racket. Nadal has been the ultimate competitor, playing every point as if it might be his last, as if the outcome might depend on each and every swing.
That hard-charging style has been at the heart of his brilliance on the court — and also perhaps contributed to a series of injuries over the years.
“I don’t deserve,” Nadal said, “to end my career like this, in a press conference.”
He is just 1-3 this season and has dropped seven of his past nine matches overall, dating to a fourth-round loss to Frances Tiafoe…
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