Rafa Nadal footage sparks massive French Open development

The 36-year-old hasn't played a tournament since the Australian Open.

Rafa Nadal (pictured) reacts during a press conference.
Rafa Nadal (pictured) has appeared to step up his training with the Spaniard expected to return at the Italian Open. (Getty Images)

Rafa Nadal has appeared to step up his training in a huge sign he could be ready to compete in Rome only a few weeks out from the French Open. Nadal has been out for nearly four months having not played tennis since the Australian Open.

Fans were left in the dark over Nadal's schedule as he continued to withdraw from tournaments from a hip flexor injury that was meant to take 6-8 weeks of recovery. He pulled out of hard-court tournaments at Indian Wells and Miami, with his sights set on a return at the start of the clay-court season, but it did not come to fruition.

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He was then forced to withdraw from Monte Carlo and Barcelona, with his omission from the Madrid Masters the latest brutal blow for the 36-year-old. He took to social media to share some light on his injury and let his fans that recovery hadn't gone as planned.

But in a strong sign that the 22-time grand slam champion is getting close to returning, Nadal appears to be stepping up his preparation in time for the Italian Open. SER reporter Pedro Fullana claimed Nadal has been training hard for days and is aiming to play a warm-up tournament before attempting to win a 15th Roland Garros title.

Footage of Nadal training at his academy also shows the step up in preparation for the Italian Open. The Spaniard appears to be moving more freely and is hitting the ball with his trademark intensity during practice.

This is a huge step for Nadal after his coach Carlos Moya recently said that the Spaniard was trying his best to reach Paris in a competitive condition.

“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 is 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.”

Tennis fans wait for Novak Djokovic announcement

While Nadal has missed the entire clay court season so far, Djokovic has also been battling an injury cloud. 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."

And the World No.1 stunned fans when he withdrew from the Madrid Open without much of an announcement. "Novak Djokovic is unable to compete at the Madrid Open," the tournament wrote. "Wishing you a speedy recovery, we hope to see you back on court as soon as possible."

The news has certainly taken the tennis world by surprise. Djokovic's withdrawal marks the first time neither Nadal or himself has played the tournament since 2002.

Rafael Nadal reacts during the Australian Open.
Rafael Nadal (pictured) hasn't played a tournament since the Australian Open. (Photo by Bai Xuefei/Xinhua via Getty Images)

With both men sitting on 22 grand slams and seeking to become the first man to reach 23, they are both fighting to be fit for the French Open. One man who will enter the tournament in sensational form is Carlos Alcaraz.

The youngster turned 20 years old on Friday and defended his title at the Barcelona Open last month. He is currently in the semi-finals of the Madrid Open where he will take on Borna Coric.

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