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Tennis

'Can't keep demanding more from body'- Rafael Nadal expects 2024 to be swansong

With the Spaniard set to sit the French Open out for the first time since 2005, the curtains seem to draw on Rafael Nadal's career.

Rafael Nadal
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Rafael Nadal (Source: Getty)

By

PTI

Updated: 19 May 2023 4:13 AM GMT

Rafael Nadal announced Thursday that he is pulling out of the French Open because of a lingering hip injury, and he expects 2024 to be the final season of his career. The owner of a record 14 championships at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament will miss it for the first time since making his debut there in 2005.

Nadal, who turns 37 next month, delivered the news of his withdrawal — and future plans — during a news conference at his tennis academy in Manacor, Spain. He said he does not want to set a date for his return to the tennis tour, but expects it to take months. And then, the 22-time Grand Slam champion added: "You never know how things will turn out, but my intention is that next year will be my last year."

Play begins at Roland Garros in Paris on May 28. Nadal has a career record of 112-3 across 18 appearances at the French Open, a level of dominance unmatched by any man or woman at any Grand Slam event in the long annals of a sport that dates to the 1800s.

When Nadal won the trophy last year at age 36 while dealing with chronic foot pain, he became the oldest champion in tournament history. He said he is not sure that taking more time off now will give him a real chance of coming back next season in competitive form, but explained that he knows he can't keep trying to force his body back into match condition now.

“I am going to stop, I am not going to train. I am not ready to train," Nadal said, alternating answers in Spanish and English. "These have been many months with many moments of frustration, and I can handle frustration, but there comes a time when you have to stop.”

Nadal's birthday is June 3, when ordinarily he might have been playing his third-round match in Court Philippe Chatrier. Instead, he will be out of action, just as he has been for most of this season. The Spaniard hasn't competed anywhere since he lost to Mackie McDonald in the second round of the Australian Open on Jan. 18, when his movement clearly was restricted by a bothersome left hip flexor.

That was Nadal's earliest Grand Slam exit since 2016. An MRI exam the next day revealed the extent of the injury, and his manager said at the time that Nadal was expected to need up to two months to fully recover. He initially aimed to return at the Monte Carlo Masters in March on his beloved red clay, but he wasn't able to play there, then subsequently sat out tournament after tournament, decreasing the likelihood that he would be ready for the French Open.

Nadal is just 1-3 this season. He has dropped seven of his past nine matches overall, dating to a fourth-round loss to Frances Tiafoe in the U.S. Open's fourth round last September.

It is one thing for Nadal to lose more frequently, and in earlier rounds, than he usually has over the course of his illustrious career — one in which his 22 major titles are tied with rival Novak Djokovic for the most by a man, and includes 92 trophies in all, along with more than 1,000 tour-level match wins.

It is another thing entirely for Nadal to be missing from Roland Garros, where he has appeared 18 times, every year since he won it as a teen in 2005. He also was the champion in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2022. That's why tennis players often refer to facing Nadal at the French Open as the toughest task in sports.

Amid all of the triumphs there, the setbacks certainly were infrequent. Nadal dropped out of the field before the third round in 2016 because of an injured wrist, and was eliminated by another player three times: Those losses came against Robin Soderling in the fourth round in 2009, against Djokovic in the quarterfinals in 2015, then again against Djokovic in the semifinals in 2021.

This year, Nadal will be absent right from the start from his favorite event — and one where he generally is regarded as the favorite to win, no matter what. “You can't keep demanding more and more from your body, because there comes a moment when your body raises a white flag,” said Nadal, who sat alone on a stage, wearing jeans and a white polo shirt during his news conference, which was carried live in Spain by the state broadcaster's 24-hour sports network.

“Even though your head wants to keep going, your body says this is as far it goes.”

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