Questions are being asked about whether Rafa Nadal can still compete for and win grand slam titles, or if he's simply coming back to tennis for a farewell tour. The 37-year-old announced last weekend that he'll play at the upcoming Brisbane International before turning his focus to the Australian Open.
The 22-time major winner's appearance in Brisbane will mark his first event in almost 12 months after he suffered a hip injury at the 2023 Australian Open. He was knocked out in the second round of the Melbourne Park major by Mackenzie McDonald, before undergoing hip surgery and struggling to get it right.
"After a year away from competition it's time to come back," Nadal said in a video message on social media on Friday. "I will be in Brisbane the first week of January. I'll see you there."
The appearance in Brisbane could mark the start of a farewell tour for the 37-year-old Spaniard, who previously said 2024 will be his last year on tour. His 18-year stay in the top-10 of the rankings ended in March and he has since plummeted to 663th in the world.
Nadal has said he wants to play the French Open in May and represent his country at the Paris Olympics in July, but both are still up in the air at this stage. While the 22-time grand slam champion has previously stated that he wouldn't be attempting a comeback if he didn't think he could win matches, he certainly has his work cut out competing with the likes of Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz.
But according to former player and commentator Paolo Bertolucci, the Spanish great won't be content with farewelling fans. “I'm sure that he will still have a great desire to compete and overcome his opponents - someone like him doesn't come back to do the farewell tour," he said.
"The tournaments will not be catwalks to collect the last applause and say goodbye to his many fans. There is a lot of curiosity in seeing him back on the court.
"Accustomed as he was to breaking so many records, perhaps he wants to push the boundaries of his legend further. He chose Australia to start again, but I believe that everything is part of the design of a very targeted program through specific tests that have validated this decision and which should bring him in good condition for the clay tournaments from May to June."
Can Rafa Nadal still win grand slams?
But according to top coach Rick Macci, Nadal has little chance to win the Australian Open - or the French Open for that matter. “As far as Rafa coming back, as you get older, you lose a little mobility and people aren’t afraid when they know you’re vulnerable,” Macci told Tennis Infinity. “There’s not that much difference between the guys at the top and then the next tier, and when they know they have a chance, that’s a whole different thing, even on clay.
“Where before against Rafa, he’s 112-3 on clay [at the French Open]. The match was over before it even started. You knew you weren’t going to beat the guy more than likely.
“So that being said, I wish Rafa all the best, but he’s not at the exact same level he was before so I don’t think he’s a contender to win a slam. I think he can be competitive and I think he’s a rough out for anybody on clay, but it depends on his health.”
Brisbane International Tournament Director Cam Pearson said of Nadal's inclusion: "We are thrilled to have Rafa make his return to tennis here in Brisbane and know his fans will be very excited. We know how hard Rafa has been working to get back playing, so to see him out on court for the first time in 12 months here in Brisbane will be very special."
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