Rafa Nadal hints at tennis retirement backflip amid 'crazy' scenes before French Open

It's been widely accepted that this would be the last French Open for the King of clay.

Rafa Nadal has made the staggering admission that the upcoming French Open grand slam may not be his last at Roland Garros after all. It's been widely reported that the clay court tournament was set to be the 14-time champion's Roland Garros farewell and that's certainly what tennis fans must have thought as they packed the stands in Paris to watch him practice.

In scenes described as "crazy" from fans on social media, some 10,000 fans filled the stands on Court Suzanne Lenglen to watch Nadal hit up against Denmark's Holger Rune. The Spaniard looked sharp and even though it was a just a practice session, the 22-time major winner got the better of Rune after going ahead 7-5 2-0 in promising signs before his opening match against Alexander Zverev at the French Open.

Pictured right is Rafa Nadal talking about his expected retirement from tennis ahead of the French Open.
Rafa Nadal made a shock admission about his expected retirement from tennis after amazing scenes in practice ahead of the French Open. Pic: X/Getty

It's a brutal draw for Nadal, who will be up against it taking on the in-form World No.4, who won the recent Italian Open in preparation for the clay court slam. Rome wasn't as fruitful for Nadal, who was blown off the court in the third round by World No.9 Hubert Hurkacz 6-1 6-3 as he continues to return to full match fitness after a series of injuries and a surgically repaired hip.

Nadal has been battling to get back into shape after making his long-awaited return from injury at Barcelona, where he lost in the second round to Alex de Minaur. He then gained revenge on the Aussie at the Madrid Open before suffering a gruelling defeat in the round of 16, then making the third round of the Italian Open.

But the Spaniard admitted his chances of competing in Paris were touch-and-go and the tennis world expected that 2024 would be the final time they see the King of clay grace the courts at Roland Garros. However, Nadal has been encouraged by his form and fitness in recent weeks and made the bombshell admission that this may not be his French Open swansong after all, following his practice hit-out in front of a packed house.

"In some ways I don't want to close 100% the door (on my tennis career)," he revealed to reporters in Paris. "Physically I feel better, I am improving in different ways and I have less limitations than three or four weeks ago. I am grateful I am able to be in Roland Garros and give myself a chance to play at least one more time here - maybe the last one, maybe not.

"I am feeling competitive in the practices. I am able to play almost anyone. That has given me some hope." Now ranked 276th in the world, Nadal has only played 11 matches since January 2023 because of hip and abdominal injuries. And despite expressing doubts after his most recent defeat to Hurkacz in the Italian Open second round, Nadal says he has the "right motivation" to return to play in his favourite tournament.

Seen here, Rafa Nadal signing autographs for fans after practice at the French Open.
Rafa Nadal signs autographs for a large group of fans that packed the stands in Paris to watch him practice before the French Open. Pic: Getty

Nadal was bullish in his pre-tournament press conference and despite having to play World No.4 Zverev in the first round, he insisted anything was possible. "When you are not seeded anything can happen," added Nadal, who has won 112 of his 115 matches at Roland Garros. "That's part of the business when you are not seeded. You just accept it.


"On paper it is not the best draw, I will play against one of the toughest opponents possible, so what can I do? I have to try to be ready for it." The Spaniard's uncle and long-time former coach Toni Nadal also refused to rule out the astonishing possibility of the 37-year-old - who turns 38 on June 3 - clinching a record-extending 15th title at Roland Garros.

“It will be very difficult because in the last two years he has not played many matches but I think his game remains very difficult for opposing players," he told the BBC. "When you're not seeded it is a big problem. But if Rafael is able to arrive in the second week he will be one of the favourites to win Roland Garros again."