‘If Rafael Nadal wins Roland Garros, that’s superhuman,’ says former player

Rafael Nadal crowned 2022 French Open champion

There is a “real buzz” ahead of Rafael Nadal’s return to action with former top 20 player Fabrice Santoro describing his return as “colossal” and adding that if the Spaniard ends up winning the French Open it will be a “superhuman” effort.

Nadal played only four matches at the beginning of this campaign after suffering a devastating hip injury at the Australian Open in January and he was forced to undergo surgery in June.

There were some fears that tennis may have seen the last of the great man given that he turned 37 in May, but Nadal has made a remarkable recovery and will return to action in early 2024.

The ATP 250 Brisbane International, which gets underway on December 31, has been pencilled in as his comeback tournament while he is also on the entry list for the Australian Open.

The 22-time Grand Slam winner has provided several positive updates in recent weeks and former world No 17 Santoro admits Nadal’s comeback has stirred all sorts of emotions.

In an interview with L’Equipe, the Frenchman said: “It’s not natural, especially at his age. His post (last Friday) is beautiful, super touching. I had goosebumps while listening to the video. Total Rafa with immense sincerity because it’s passion that trumps everything.

“I know the efforts that it has required from him for several months to hope for a return, with this uncertainty… It’s colossal to be ready to make these efforts when we have won as much as he has.”

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Nadal’s big aim for 2024 will no doubt be a successful run at Roland Garros where he has won a record 14 titles with the last coming in 2022.

Winning a Grand Slam after almost a year on the sidelines will be no easy feat, but Nadal has pulled off miracles before, especially at the French Open.

Santoro added: “He’s taking the risk. I’d love for him to go all the way at Roland Garros. It’s a huge challenge. But in my opinion, it’s not even important.

“If he wins Roland Garros, that’s superhuman, once again. But if he doesn’t win many matches, it’s anecdotal. When he comes back, he’s already won. I can’t wait to see him play in Australia… It’s a real buzz.”

Nadal himself has tried to keep expectations low ahead of his big return.

“It’s been a long year in which I’ve gone through many phases, from trying to get back to compete at the clay season, week after week disappointment after disappointment,” he said last week.

“Then I had to decide to stop and say ‘enough’ and look for a definite solution, which was surgery.

“Since then, everything has been a new horizon, a difficult path, but always with the hope of coming back.

“Of course, there were moments where it seemed impossible that this moment would come, but we’ve maintained the work, spirit and hope and I think I am ready.”