Rafa Nadal has left tennis fans fearing for his fitness at the upcoming French Open, after announcing his withdrawal from the Italian Open in Rome. Fans had been buoyed by footage of Nadal from his training academy showing him appearing to be moving better than he has in months, but the 22-time grand slam champion says his body is still not ready for competition.
A hip-flexor injury sustained at the Australian Open has seen the 36-year-old Nadal sidelined ever since. Initially believed to be an injury requiring only six to eight weeks of recovery, Nadal had pulled out of hard-court tournaments in Madrid and Indian Wells in an effort to focus on the clay court swing.
The Italian Open loomed as a crucial litmus test for Nadal, but despite admitting that his recovery was progressing well, he told fans he was simply not fully ready to compete. The Spanish superstar boasts an incredible record in Rome, winning in 2021 and holding an overall record of 69-8 at the event.
The aforementioned hard-court withdrawals were followed by absences from Monte Carlo and Barcelona as focus turned to his attempt to win a 15th French Open title. In a post on social media, Nadal apologised to fans who were looking forward to his return in Rome.
"Hello everyone! I'm so sorry to announce that I won't be able to play in Rome," he wrote in Spanish. "You all know how much it hurts me to miss another of the tournaments that has been so important to me, both professionally and personally, because of all the affection and support of the Italian fans.
"Despite having noticed an improvement in the last few days, it has been many months since I’ve been able to train at a high level and the adaptation process takes time. All that is left for me to do is accept it and keep working. Best wishes to everyone."
we are with you until the end.
FOREVER, FOREVER, FOREVER.
— Rafael Nadal Fans Page (@jusvan28) May 5, 2023
Speedy recovery Legend❤️
— TennisSection (@Tennis_Section) May 5, 2023
The worst news! Rafa will play Roland Garros completely cold
— GAME TO LOVE (@GTLTennis) May 5, 2023
Nadal will miss Rome. Still plans to play Roland Garros, where we would arrive without playing a point since January. Never happened before. pic.twitter.com/em0qoQJ4m2
— José Morgado (@josemorgado) May 5, 2023
Rafa Nadal announcement leaves fans fearing for French Open tilt
Excitement from fans over the footage showing a much-improved Nadal moving well around the court quickly turned to disappointment after the announcement. Nadal's coach, Carlos Moya, admitted earlier in the week that the team had hoped to get Nadal playing on clay prior to the French Open.
“Currently, we work more or less an hour and a half a day and continue to improve day by day. It is not even a matter of whether you are an optimist or a pessimist, just that you observe the progress every day,” Moya said of Nadal to L'Equipe.
“We are a little sad that he hasn’t played on clay yet,” Moya added. “He isn't the worst, but we try to encourage him and are always optimistic. I think it’s an urban legend that Nadal needs a lot of matches to be ready, when he came back from injury he always achieved good results.”
For all his injury troubles, Nadal has never failed to play at Roland Garros since the first of his 14 titles in 2005, although he did pull out ahead of the third round in 2016 because of a wrist problem. There are events in Lyon and Geneva the week before the start of the French Open on May 28 that Nadal could potentially seek a wild card, but his hopes of a 15th title in Paris appear to be receding by the day.
Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic appears on track to make a return of his own in Rome, after a last-minute withdrawal from the Madrid Open in April. Ahead of the Monte Carlo Open and Srpska Open, Djokovic admitted he was struggling with a persistent elbow injury.
"My elbow is not in an ideal shape but good enough to be ready for the first match," Djokovic told reporters ahead of the tournament. "One of the good things in tennis is that you get new opportunity to prove your worth every week and take a step forward. I've turned over a new leaf."
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