The Guardian: LONDON, By Tumaini Carayol – Rafael Nadal has announced his withdrawal from this month’s French Open because of the hip injury that has kept him out of competition since January. As his body continues to struggle with the physicality of professional tennis, Nadal also revealed he will probably retire in 2024. He will now take a break for a number of months to be prepared for what he believes will be the final year of his career.
At the Rafa Nadal Academy close to his home in Manacor, Mallorca, the 14-time French Open champion described how he has felt low in recent months while struggling with his injuries. “I was working as much as possible for the last four months,” he said.
“It has been very difficult because we have not been able to find the solution to the problem I had in Australia, so I’m still in the position that I’m not able to feel ready to compete at the standards I need to be to play Roland Garros.”
The 36-year-old suffered his latest injury to his psoas muscle during his Australian Open third-round loss in January and he had initially believed that he would be out for six to eight weeks. Instead, his recovery did not progress as planned and he was forced to attempt different treatment. Nadal returned to training, but four months later remains unable to train at intensity and without pain.
“My position is to stop. I don’t know when I’m going to be able to come back to the practice court. Maybe two months, maybe one month and a half, maybe three months, maybe four months,” he said. Nadal’s comments imply that he will not compete at Wimbledon this year, which starts on 3 July, and his participation at the US Open in August is in serious doubt.
Throughout his career Nadal has struggled with a high rate of injuries but in recent years his body has deteriorated. Last year, he made a triumphant return to competition after an absence of almost six months due to a chronic foot injury, winning the Australian Open in his second tournament back and then a record-setting 22nd grand slam title at the French Open in June. He now shares the men’s grand slam singles record with Novak Djokovic.
After undergoing a procedure that finally addressed his foot injury immediately after last year’s French Open, Nadal reached the Wimbledon semi-finals before suffering an abdominal injury that forced him to withdraw before his scheduled match against Nick Kyrgios. On his return in the summer, Nadal struggled to recover his fitness and form, losing seven of nine matches. His extended absence led to him falling out of the top 10 for the first time in 18 years (912 weeks), an ATP record.
“Since after the pandemic, I was not able to hold the practices and to hold the daily work in a good way so I was not able to enjoy the practices and the competition because there was too many problems, too many times having to stop for physical issues. Too many days here practising with pain,” he said.
Nadal will turn 37 next month. By taking a break, he hopes he will be in the best position to enjoy what he believes will be his final year. “My goal, my ambition is to try to stop to give myself an opportunity to enjoy next year that’s probably gonna be my last year in the professional tour. That’s my idea, even if I can’t say 100% that’s gonna be like this because you never know what’s gonna happen.
“My idea, my motivation is try to say goodbye to all the tournaments that have been important for me in my career and just enjoy being competitive and enjoy being on court, which today is not possible.”
No tournament will feel the absence of Nadal more than Roland Garros, which has already erected a statue of him on its grounds. Nadal has loomed over the men’s tournament since he won his first grand slam tournament on his French Open debut in 2005, establishing a level of dominance that no other player has managed anywhere else. He has won the event in 14 of his 18 appearances and compiled a 112-3 (97%) record in Paris.
Despite his injuries, Nadal had been present at the French Open for 18 consecutive years and won the event despite numerous physical difficulties, including last year when playing with a foot numbed by anaesthetic. Nadal’s only other withdrawal occurred mid-tournament before his third-round match in 2016, with a wrist injury. The tournament, and the tour itself, will look entirely different in his absence.
Kyrgios will also miss the French Open, because of an injury sustained during the theft of his car by armed robbers this month. He has “lacerated the side of his left foot”, his agent said.
Top Feature Photo: Rafael Nadal will be not be defending his French Open title – Christophe Ena/AP