Rafa Nadal has delivered the news that no tennis fan wanted to hear but many were expecting: that a persistent hip injury had forced him to withdraw from the French Open and that 2024 will almost likely his final year in the sport. The 22-time grand slam champion fronted a widely anticipated press conference at his tennis academy in Mallorca to drop the bombshell on devastated fans all around the world.
Nadal struggled with a hip injury that saw him go down to Mackenzie McDonald in straight sets in the second round of the Australian Open in January. The 36-year-old had initially been expected to recover in time for the clay court season in preparation for his bid to claim a record-extending 15th title at the French Open.
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However, after revealing that his recovery had not gone as well as expected, Nadal pulled out of all the clay court lead-in tournaments, prompting fears he would have to miss the Roland Garros grand slam for the first time in 19 years. The 14-time French Open champion - who has only lost three matches on the Parisian clay - confirmed the sad news and added that 2024 will almost certainly be his final year in tennis.
“It’s not a decision I’m taking, it’s a decision my body is taking,” he said. "My goal and my ambition is to try and stop and give myself an opportunity to enjoy the next year that will probably be my last year in the professional tour. That is my idea but I can't say 100 per cent it will be like this, but my idea and my motivation is to try to enjoy and say goodbye to all the tournaments that have been important for me.
"To enjoy being competitive and something that today is not possible. I believe, if I keep going now, I will not be able to make it happen." Nadal said it became abundantly clear in recent days that he simply would not be able to compete at Roland Garros to the levels he wanted.
"I was even working as much as possible every single day for the last four months, they have been very difficult months because we were not able to find a solution to the problems I had in Australia. Today I'm still in a position where I am not able to feel myself ready to compete at the standards I need to be to play Roland Garros. I am not the guy who will be at Roland Garros just to play."
Nadal says he now plans to rest for the coming months with the aim to recover so he can play at "important tournaments" in 2024 during what he believes will be his final year on tour. While his French Open withdrawal was increasingly inevitable, news he will also sit out Wimbledon, and almost certainly the US Open as well, is a major blow to the sport, which must now prepare to say goodbye to the Spaniard having seen his great rival Roger Federer bow out last autumn.
Rafael Nadal has withdrawn from Roland Garros.
It’ll be the first time that he has done so since 2004.
His *13th* withdrawal from a major.
Will drop outside the world’s top 100, possibly even requiring wildcards for tour events.
Get well soon, Rafa! pic.twitter.com/SUmQKFfmYJ
— Olly 🎾🇬🇧 (@Olly_Tennis_) May 18, 2023
Gutted to hear Rafa Nadal will miss Roland Garros this year - likely to miss the remainder of the year too.
Says next year will likely be his last year on the tour as a professional. 😢
— Abu Hafsah (@Shazzi_07) May 18, 2023
Sad day for tennis. Rafa Nadal has announced he won’t be at Roland Garros. And he also announced he will retire next year. Devastating. So sad.
— Mandy 🏴🇨🇴 (@MandyH13x) May 18, 2023
Dreaded this day 💔 GUTTED 😢😭 but I’m #AlwaysRafaForever
💔❤️🩹Rafa Nadal ♥️ to #Retire2024 #WITHDRAWN #RG2023 #Rafa sets a date for his retirement: "I would like to say goodbye to tournaments in ‘24#RAFAELNADALOFFICIALFANCLUB 👑🐐#TheRafaNadalOfficialFanClub 👑🐐 pic.twitter.com/O9t4b3p3wT
— Manique Amerasinghe Corteling (@Manique8) May 18, 2023
NEXT YEAR WILL BE NADAL'S LAST???
I'M DEVASTATED 😭😭😭 https://t.co/pWIYpgIz8Z
— sᴉɹnſ (@Orbiting_44) May 18, 2023
I knew the announcement would be coming but I am honestly devastated that Nadal is retiring. Tennis won’t be the same without him in draws. https://t.co/KEnUP0QytY
— Kenny koala (@kennykoalabear) May 18, 2023
Nadal retiring was always going to happen sooner rather than later. But actually knowing next year will be his last is so sad 😔
— George Green (@GreenEvertonian) May 18, 2023
Rafa Nadal set to miss rest of 2023
Nadal claimed brilliant victories at the Australian Open and French Open last year but was fighting his body, with a chronic foot problem, fractured rib and an abdominal strain that forced him out of Wimbledon, keeping him off the court for spells prior to this latest injury.
"I will stop for a while, maybe one month, maybe two months, maybe three months. I am a guy who doesn't like to predict too much the future. I am following what I believe is the right thing to do for my body and my personal happiness," he said.
"I don't want to say one thing and do the other. It is better to hold the options open and see what is the best calendar possible.
"I would like to play the things that are important for me and of course the Olympic Games is an important competition and one I hope to play. Will it be my last or not? I cannot say."
Nadal became emotional when speaking about the potential end to one of the greatest tennis careers in history. His resolve to return to the sport he has dedicated most of his life to was powerfully evident though.
“I believe I don’t deserve to finish [now],” he added. “I think I have fought enough during all my sporting career so that my end is not today, here in a press conference. My ending will be in another way and I will fight so that my end will be in another way.”
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