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Rafael Nadal: Why Spaniard’s absence from French Open is hard to imagine even now it’s happening

Rafael Nadal with the 2005 and 2022 French Open trophies

Since his first French Open title in 2005 (left), Rafael Nadal has added another 13, most recently last year (right)

No matter how many times you repeat to yourself ‘Rafael Nadal is missing the French Open’, it still seems almost impossible.

The Spaniard who is synonymous with Roland Garros, the red clay and the Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy that he has lifted a record 14 times will not be there when this year’s edition starts on 28 May because he is not fit enough following a hip injury.

Even the fact it is a physical issue that is keeping him out is almost inconceivable when you consider he won the title last year with a completely left numb foot because of multiple pain-killing injections.

In announcing on Thursday that he would be missing his favourite event for the first time in 19 years, he also signalled his intention to retire at the end of the 2024 season.

His plan to take some time out of the game now – he was not sure if it would be two months, four months, whatever – is aimed at ensuring he is in the best shape for a final year of ‘goodbyes’ at the most important tournaments for him.

Top of that list will be the clay-court Grand Slam, which he – in contrast to many of his fans – described as “Roland Garros with or without me”.

“Players stay for a while and they leave, tournaments stay for ever,” he told a news conference on Thursday.

But when asked a few weeks ago what a French Open without Nadal would look like, tournament director Amelie Mauresmo said it would be “hard” to imagine.

“He’s so much part of the history of the tournament for the last almost 20 years – it would be sad,” she said.

Never mind imagining it, we are now living it.

So, what does Nadal’s absence mean for the French Open and beyond?

A year to plan a retirement party for French Open’s greatest player

A statue of Nadal was unveiled at Roland Garros in 2021 but organisers have since admitted that even that will not be enough of a tribute to the tournament’s greatest player when he eventually retires.

They will now have a year to plan his send-off, while Nadal himself would like nothing better to celebrate with a 15th title to bookend an extraordinary career.

He won the French Open title on his first appearance there in 2005, going on to triumph another 13 times in the following 17 years.

No player has won as many singles titles at one major tournament as the left-hander has at Roland Garros.

Known as the ‘King of Clay’,…

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