Latest Rafael Nadal revelation casts fresh doubt over his French Open hopes

Kevin Palmer
Rafael Nadal takes a break
Rafael Nadal looks on

The clock is ticking on Rafael Nadal’s hopes of competing at the French Open and the latest revelation that he has turned down the chance to play a warm-up event this week suggests he may be close to confirming his plans.

Nadal has not played a competitive match since losing in the second round of the Australian Open in January, with his absence through the entire clay court season sparking rumours that he may be close to calling time on his illustrious career.

A long-standing foot problem and the hip injury he sustained in Melbourne at the start of the year may be factors holding back his return to action, yet it seems implausible that the icon who will turn 37 in June can be at his best to defend his French Open title.

Now it has been confirmed that Nadal turned down the chance to get some clay court practice in this week’s ATP Challenger event in Bordeaux, meaning he will head into the French Open with no warm up matches if he decides to play in Paris.

“I offered him (Nadal’s agent Carlos Costa) one of the wild cards,” Bordeaux tournament director Jean-Baptiste Perlant told French sports daily L’Equipe.

“He very kindly told me that Nadal was continuing his preparation at home in Manacor, that he was not ready and was in a race against time to be ready for the French Open.”

The ‘race against time’ comment is the first confirmation from inside the Nadal camp that he might be struggling to be fit in time to play in his favourite tournament.

Nadal has won the French Open on a remarkable 14 occasions and played through the pain barrier to overcome his foot problem to win the title last year.

Yet it appears his powers of recovery appear to be waning, with the gaps between his injury breaks widening in recent years.

This is a pattern followed by his great friend and rival Roger Federer, who battled against a series of injuries before finally confirming his retirement last year.

It remains to be seen whether Nadal will be forced to follow that path in the coming months, with images from a video of him struggling to complete a training session at his academy in Manacor, Spain, adding to fears a retirement announcement may be imminent.

Compatriot Carlos Alcaraz is emerging as his natural successor, with tennis legend Boris Becker among those who has doubted Nadal’s powers of recover as he suggested the 20-year-old is aa blend of Nadal and his great rival Novak Djokovic.

“Carlos plays tennis very differently. What impresses me the most is his powerful style of play. When he hits his forehand with full topspin, there’s no grass anymore (a German proverb that his hitting is so effective),” Becker told Eurosport.

“Whoever dares take on a rally against him has lost anyway. We used to say that about [Rafael] Nadal and [Novak] Djokovic. But Alcaraz has even more punch and even more topspin in his shots. That’s why he’s rewriting tennis history.

“I am fascinated by the fact that he is playing the way he is playing this year. It’s hard enough to get into the tennis scene and win your first tournaments. Now it surprised me that after a winter of injuries he continues to play tennis exactly where he left off – with absolute world-class performances.”

Nadal will need to make his plans for the French Open clear in the coming days, with the draw for the second Grand Slam of 2023 set to take place on May 25th

It may be that Nadal may already know what his decision will be over a tournament that means so much to him, but that decision will need to be made public on the next 10 days.

READ MORE: Fresh doubts over Rafael Nadal’s hopes of playing at the French Open