Mats Wilander gives Rafael Nadal retirement verdict as he weighs in on injury struggles

Ewan West
Rafael Nadal leaves the court
Rafael Nadal waves to the crowd after his defeat at the Australian Open

Tennis great Mats Wilander believes the 2024 season will “most probably” be Rafael Nadal’s final year in tennis as he discussed the Spanish legend’s ongoing injury issues.

The former world No 1 believes, though, that we have not seen the last of Nadal “playing a competitive match when he’s feeling 100%” and expects the 37-year-old to feature at Roland Garros.

Nadal has played just one tournament and three competitive matches since the 2023 Australian Open, when he suffered a hip injury in his loss to Mackenzie McDonald.

The 22-time Grand Slam champion underwent arthroscopic surgery on his hip in June last year and had a setback with the same hip in his comeback tournament in Brisbane in January.

The Mallorcan was forced to pull out of the 2024 Australian Open, and has since withdrawn from events in Doha and Indian Wells, where he had hoped to return.

Nadal is expected to attempt to play at the Monte Carlo Masters in April to start his clay-court season in preparation for the 2024 French Open, which he has identified as his priority.

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Speaking to Eurosport, Wilander expressed hope that the 14-time Roland Garros champion will return to the clay-court major, having missed it last year.

“When you see that match in Las Vegas and you see that Rafa is out and he’s been practicing, he’s playing golf and all that, you think, ‘Okay, well he must be healthy’. And then when he pulls out, it’s also clear that, no, he isn’t healthy,” the Swede said.

“There’s no chance that if Rafa goes to Indian Wells early just like he did to Australia, when he went to Brisbane – and he was looking really good in a couple of matches, and then he has to pull out – it’s not like he’s scared, he’s injured.

“And with this problem, ‘I cannot: A) win too many matches, B) I can make it worse. And that’s not why I’m here. That’s not why I’m playing tennis. I would like to get a couple of matches under my belt’.

“The courts in Indian Wells, they are perfect for Rafa, if you’re talking about hard court. So it’s very disappointing. He does show signs of wanting to come back really badly, which is why I do think we’re going to see him in Paris.

“And if we don’t, it’s only going to be because he has a little bit of an injury and he doesn’t want to make it worse. Why? Because he’s still looking ahead to the future.

“Is this the last year for Rafa? Maybe. Most probably. I’m not sure, but certainly we haven’t seen the last of him playing a competitive match when he’s feeling 100%. I think he’s still waiting for that moment.”

The seven-time Grand Slam champion also suggested Nadal could skip the Italian Open in Rome ahead of the French Open if he has had a successful clay season prior to that point.

“When I think he’ll be ready for Roland Garros is either when he pulls out of the Italian Open, because he’s done well in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid [if he plays], or when he wins a couple of matches at the Italian Open because he’s done well in the previous three weeks on clay,” Wilander added.

“I think that’s always been the case. He’s always done unbelievably well in Rome but that is the clay court tournament out of all of them where he’s actually done the worst.

“And some of it has to do with being a little tired. Some of it has to do with, ‘I have enough confidence – I just can’t push myself to play another two, three matches at this particular moment’.

“They seem to always coincide with the Italian Open in Rome. But I think that tournament, if he doesn’t play, if he played before, then that’s a good sign.

“If he does play, even if he played before, then that’s a good sign. So I think that the answer will come around that time, in my mind.”

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