Jimmy Connors issues his verdict on Rafael Nadal’s Indian Wells withdrawal amid criticism

Ewan West
Rafael Nadal after a match
Rafael Nadal post match

Jimmy Connors has defended his fellow tennis great Rafael Nadal after the Spaniard received criticism from fans over his withdrawal from the 2024 Indian Wells Open. 

The eight-time Grand Slam champion asserted that Nadal is still playing because of his love for tennis and his competitive nature, rather than for money.

Nadal was set to make his return to action at the ongoing ATP Masters 1000 event in Indian Wells, but he withdrew the day before his opening round match against Milos Raonic last week.

The 22-time major winner has been questioned by some due to his late decision to withdraw, given he played in the Netflix Slam exhibition against Carlos Alcaraz in Las Vegas shortly before the tournament.

The 37-year-old has not played a competitive match since sustaining a hip injury in his defeat loss to Jordan Thompson in Brisbane in January.

The former world No 1 made his comeback in Brisbane after almost a year out of action, having suffered a hip psoas muscle injury at the 2023 Australian Open that he underwent surgery for in June.

Since pulling out of Indian Wells, Nadal has revealed he has already trained on green clay to begin his preparations for the European clay-court season.

READ MORE: Rafael Nadal’s next event confirmed – can he face Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz or Jannik Sinner early on?

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Speaking on his Advantage Connors podcast, former world No 1 Connors weighed in on the backlash Nadal has received from some quarters following his Indian Wells withdrawal.

“You know, as much as you want to talk about [the] exhibition and things like that — [it] is not for real and you know obviously, let’s face it, he’s come to a point in his career where his health is something worth looking at every week,” the 71-year-old American said.

“Compare him to Tiger a [Woods] little bit, Tiger entered the tournament Riviera, tries to go out and play and then gets sick the next day and you enter and you pull out and I’m saying from experience that when you get older.

“Things don’t come as easy to you, everybody knows that, so you gotta work harder and train harder and you go on and you think you can play your normal game.

“Things have changed because the amount of money they are playing for now and surely the amount of money that he’s made, he’s not playing for the money.

“You come back and you play because you love the game, you love the competition and you love everything that goes with trying to win every time you walk out there, and his competitiveness has always been at the very top.

“Let’s face it, Rafa put an awful lot of effort into his style and that was it from the very beginning.”

Nadal’s latest setback also forced him to pull out of the 2024 Australian Open in January, as well as the Qatar Open in Doha last month — where he had hoped to return.

READ MORE: Daniil Medvedev makes ‘inexplicable’ Rafael Nadal claim as he reveals his biggest mental challenge