Rafa Nadal drama deepens as shock French Open theory comes to light

The tennis champion hasn't played since suffering a hip injury at the Australian Open in January.

Rafa Nadal, pictured here at the French Open.
Rafa Nadal has won five of the last six French Opens. Image: Getty

Aussie tennis great Todd Woodbridge has made the staggering prediction that Rafa Nadal won't play the French Open next month. Nadal hasn't played since suffering a hip injury in the second round of the Australian Open in January, despite initially saying he expected to miss around six to eight weeks.

The layoff has since stretched to 14 weeks, sparking major concerns that Nadal won't be able to play his pet event at Roland Garros. The 22-time grand slam champion has won the French Open a record 14 times, but hasn't even started his clay-court campaign yet.

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He missed Masters 1000 events at Monte Carlo and Barcelona this month, while also announcing last week that he won't be able to play in Madrid. The extended absence has left Woodbridge fearing the worst that Nadal won't be in action at Roland Garros come May 28.

"I am starting to feel we're not going to see him at Roland Garros. Not going to defend his title which would be enormous if that happened," Woodbridge said on Channel 9 on Sunday.

"There is one tournament left for him to play, that is Rome, to get some matches. If he doesn't get to Rome and get tennis under his belt, I cannot imagine that he would put that record on the line of how fantastic he's been at winning Roland Garros by going there and losing early."

Nadal boasts an extraordinary win-loss record at Roland Garros of 112-3, and has played every French Open since his title-winning debut in 2005. The defending champion has won five of the last six French Opens and 14 overall, making it practically unthinkable that he could miss the clay-court grand slam.

Rafa Nadal, pictured here after winning the French Open in 2020.
Rafa Nadal celebrates after winning the French Open in 2020. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

But after 14 weeks away (and counting), tennis fans might need to start coming around to the idea. Woodbridge said he doesn't think the 36-year-old can play the French Open if he doesn't get a warm-up event under his belt.

"What's happened over the last couple of years now, is that he's come back from injury and done well," the Aussie said. "At the Australian Open he was coming back from injury again and he got something completely new.

"I think he's starting to think, 'I don't know if my body can take this any more'. Let's not forget he's had a baby now, he's been at home, he's got a yacht down there in Mallorca or wherever it may be - life's pretty good. It's going to be hard to keep pushing to get back."

Rafa Nadal baffled by long recovery from hip issue

In announcing his withdrawal from Madrid, Nadal expressed his frustrations that he hasn't been able to get back on court sooner. Before the clay-court season he also missed Masters 1000 events at Indian Wells and Miami, and has tumbled down the rankings to World No.14.

"For the moment I've missed Monte Carlo and Barcelona. And unfortunately I won't be able to be in Madrid either," Nadal said last week.

"The injury still hasn't healed. In principle it was supposed to be a recovery period of six to eight weeks and now we're around 14.

"The reality is that the situation is not what we would have hoped for. All medical indications have been followed, but the healing has not gone as they told us initially and we find ourselves in a difficult situation.

"I can't work on what I need to compete. I was training, but a few days ago we decided to change course a bit, to try another treatment and see if things improve to try to get to what comes next. I can't give deadlines because if I knew I would tell you, but I don't know. This is how things are now."

The top grand slam winners in the Open Era of tennis, pictured here since 1968.
The top grand slam winners in the Open Era of tennis (since 1968). (Photo by Mahmut Resul Karaca/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

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