Comments from Rafael Nadal cast huge doubts over his long-term tennis future

Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal suffered a rare defeat on home soil as he was beaten by compatriot Carlos Alcaraz at the Madrid Open, yet it was his reported comments prior to that match may have been even more significant than the result.

A day after his 19th birthday, Alcaraz, who has already broken into the top 10, defied an ankle injury suffered in a second-set fall to defeat his 35-year-old opponent 6-2 1-6 6-3.

It seemed the teenager might not be able to finish the match when he went over on his right ankle in the third game of the second set having played a brilliant opener.

Nadal reeled off five straight games, but Alcaraz began to move more freely again at the start of the decider and held on to an early break of serve to beat his idol.

He became the first teenager ever to defeat Nadal on clay, and said afterwards: “I’m very excited, a lot of excitement. Very few players can say that they have defeated Rafa on clay. I feel fortunate to be one of them.”

Alcaraz had lost his two previous meetings with Nadal but, while this will inevitably be hailed as a changing-of-the-guard moment, there were mitigating factors for the 21-time grand slam champion, not least his gruelling clash on Thursday against David Goffin.

This was also Nadal’s first event since sustaining a stress fracture of a rib six weeks ago, while Madrid is his least successful of the big clay-court events.

The Spaniard said: “Of course it’s a handover. If it’s today or not, we will see the next months. I’m happy in that regard. He has been better than me in several aspects of the match and several aspects of the game, and I need to improve.”

It was comments made by Nadal to Spanish reporters that may have been more telling about his physical condition, as he looked in discomfort as he entered the exited the media room.

“If you saw me on a daily basis, you would not be worried because I limp on many days of my life,” he said, as reported by CNN. “I always have pain in my foot, especially after playing a three-hour match or long training. So it’s normal that now I am walking a little badly.

“I have a chronic injury which has no treatment. That’s part of my life, and that’s the downside of not being able to finish the match earlier. In the short term, I think I am fine, physically speaking, but also, speaking about my feet, it has to adapt to the competition.

“In the short term, as I said, it’s fine, but we wait to see.”

Nadal added: “My only dream is to be in Paris healthy enough and physically good enough to compete at the highest level possible. If that happens, I know it’s a tournament that I have been playing well a lot of times in my career. Why not I can be competitive again and give me one more chance.”

Nadal admitted his long match against Goffin meant he was not at his best physically against Alcaraz and his comments have to raise questions over whether he will be able to compete at his best over best-of-five-set matches at the French Open later this month.

It may also cast doubts over how long Nadal can continue at the highest level of the game with an injury that cannot be resolved.