for months Rafael Nadal waiting for his body to heal.
He was waiting to be able to push himself across the court at full speed and full of energy, as he has managed to do in a record 14 titles at the French Open and a total of 22 at all Grand Slam tournaments.
He finally admitted on Thursday it wouldn’t happen in time for Roland Garros, where games start in 10 days – and although he’s not exactly sure when he’ll have fully recovered from one persistent hip injuryNadal said he expects to return to action at some point and likely retire in 2024.
Speaking at a press conference at his tennis academy in Manacor, Spain, 36-year-old Nadal announced that he will miss the French Open on clay for the first time since his debut – and of course also win the trophy there in 2005.
“You can’t always ask more of your body because at some point the body raises a white flag,” said Nadal, who sat alone on stage during his session, wearing jeans and a white polo shirt. The media was covered in Spain by the 24-hour sports channel broadcast live by the state broadcaster. “Even though your head wants to move on, your body says it’s time now.”
He didn’t give a date for his return to the tennis tour but said it would likely be months.
“You never know how things will go,” said Nadal, who answered questions in English, Spanish and the local Mallorcan dialect, “but I plan on next year being my last year.”
He made one thing clear: he doesn’t want to say goodbye like that and instead of holding a bat, he wants to hold a microphone in his left hand. Nadal was the ultimate competitor, playing every point as if it were his last, as if the result could depend on every single shot.
This aggressive style was at the core of his on-pitch brilliance – and may also have contributed to a number of injuries over the years.
“I didn’t deserve it,” said Nadal, “to end my career like this, in a press conference.”
He is only 1-3 this season and has lost seven of his last nine games overall, stemming from a fourth-round loss to Frances Tiafoe in the fourth round of the US Open last September.
The Spaniard has not competed anywhere since losing to Mackie McDonald in the second round of the Australian Open on January 18, when his movements were clearly restricted by an interfering left hip flexor. That was Nadal’s earliest Grand Slam exit since 2016.
An MRI scan the next day revealed the extent of the injury and his manager said at the time that Nadal is expected to take up to two months to fully recover. Originally aiming to compete on his beloved red clay court at the Monte Carlo Masters in March, he was unable to play there and subsequently sat out tournament after tournament, reducing the likelihood that he would be ready for the French Open .
It’s one thing Nadal is losing more frequently and in earlier rounds than he’s typically done throughout his illustrious career – one in which his 22 Major titles with Djokovic are shared by the most by a man (Federer won 20). and includes a total of 92 trophies and more than 1,000 Tour-level match wins.
It’s another matter entirely that Nadal is absent from Roland Garros, where he has made 18 consecutive appearances and has a career tally of 112-3. He won the trophy in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2022 when he became the oldest champion in tournament history.
French Open tournament director Amélie Mauresmo said she was “so disappointed” in Nadal, the spectators at the event and all tennis fans.
“My thoughts are with him as I can only imagine the pain and sadness he must be feeling after having to make such a difficult decision. It’s heartbreaking,” said Mauresmo, a former No. 1 player who won two major singles titles. “We hope he can recover quickly so he can go back to the tennis courts and we hope to see him at Roland Garros next year.”
Nadal’s birthday is June 3rd. Normally he would have had to play his third round game on the Philippe Chatrier court in a few weeks.
Instead, he will miss the start in Paris this time. And soon, it seems, he could finally say goodbye to the tennis tour.
“Tournaments are forever; players play and leave. So without a doubt, Roland Garros will always be Roland Garros, with or without me. The tournament will continue to be the best event in the world of clay and there will be a new Roland Garros champion – and it won’t be me,” said Nadal. “And that’s life.”