Rafa Nadal's shock announcement as long-awaited return to tennis ruined by Aussies

The 22-time grand slam champion has dropped a massive revelation about his future in tennis.

Rafa Nadal, pictured here at the Brisbane International.
Rafa Nadal lost his doubles match at the Brisbane International in his first match in 12 months. Image: Getty

Rafa Nadal has revealed he hasn't ruled out playing beyond 2024, after previously saying this year would most likely be his last on tour. The 22-time grand slam champion played his first match on the ATP tour in nearly 12 months on Sunday, losing his first-round doubles match at the Brisbane International.

Nadal blew away the cobwebs alongside Marc Lopez in a 4-6 4-6 loss to Aussie duo Max Purcell and Jordan Thompson. It was Nadal's first match since his injury-plagued loss at the Australian Open in January 2023.

'GOING TO HAPPEN': Novak Djokovic speaks as tennis rocked by 'rumours'

HUGE: Australian Open boss announces record-breaking prize-money for 2024

The 37-year-old is playing what will likely be the last year of his illustrious tennis career, after admitting he almost retired during his 12-month layoff. But speaking to reporters before his match on Sunday, the Spanish champion said this might not be his last Australian Open campaign after all.

"Have I thought about retirement? Of course, yes ... in the low moments it's 100 per cent human," Nadal said. "The problem about saying, 'that's going to be my last season' is that I can't predict what's going on.

"That's why I say 'probably'. It's obvious that it's a high percentage it'll be my last time playing in Australia. But if I'm here next year, don't tell me, 'you said it was going to be your last season', because I didn't say it.

"I can't predict how I'm going to be in the next six months and if my body will allow me to enjoy tennis as much as it has in the past 20 years. Not in a way to win the most important events, (but) the way that it makes me happy, to feel competitive to go on the court against anyone. If I have that feeling, you never know what my approach will be."

Jordan Thompson and Max Purcell, pictured here after beating Marc Lopez and Rafa Nadal.
Jordan Thompson and Max Purcell beat Marc Lopez and Rafa Nadal. (AAP Image/Darren England)

Nadal said he initially thought he would miss just eight weeks and not require surgery after injuring his hip at the Australian Open in 2023. But he was forced to sit out the French Open - a tournament he has won a record 14 times - and was told surgery was the only route to his playing return. He then sat out the remainder of the season as he worked his way back to full fitness.

"I decided to keep going,'' Nadal said. "I have the determination, but I know sometimes it will be a painful process."

Rafa Nadal to face Dominic Thiem at Brisbane International

Next up for Nadal is a meeting with former US Open champion Dominic Thiem in the singles in Brisbane. The Austrian, who has also suffered a nightmarish run with injuries, scraped through qualifying to reach the main draw of the Australian Open lead-up event.

Nadal said he feels "much better than what I expected a month ago", adding: "I can't have super long-term goals because I don't see myself playing a super long time. I don't know how things are going to keep going.

"I'm not a player who tries to predict what can happen in the short term, and it's even tougher in the medium period of time. I need to accept the adversity and that it's not going to be perfect, just come with the right spirit every day."

Earlier on Sunday, Aussie star Alexei Popyrin outlasted compatriot Chris O'Connell to begin the tennis summer. The World No.40 won 6-4 6-7 (7-5) 7-6 (7-4), taking more than three hours in a first-round slugfest.

"That's a battle for the last match of the year, but what a battle it was," Popyrin said. "If I didn't keep my focus I would have lost this match, easy. If he continues playing like that he'll do big things this summer, for sure."

with AAP

Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.