‘Nobody can fill massive hole left by Rafael Nadal’, feels Martina Navratilova

Rafael Nadal waves goodbye

Tennis legend Martina Navratilova believes no player can fill the hole left by Rafael Nadal’s absence at the 2023 French Open.

The 18-time Grand Slam singles champion claimed “everybody thinks they have a chance” to win Roland Garros after the King of Clay’s withdrawal.

This year’s French Open, which got underway on Sunday, will be the first edition of the tournament since 2004 not to feature the Spaniard.

Nadal has won a record 14 Roland Garros titles since triumphing on his debut in 2005, when he defeated Mariano Puerta in the final.

The 36-year-old was forced to pull out of the Paris major due to a hip injury he suffered at the Australian Open in January. The 22-time Grand Slam winner has not competed since his second-round loss to Mackenzie McDonald in Melbourne.

Speaking to Tennis Channel, Navratilova discussed the impact of Nadal not playing at the 2023 French Open.

“A massive, massive hole. When somebody has dominated a tournament as much as Rafa has dominated this. For almost two decades, it has been Rafael Nadal against the field,” said the former world No 1.

“Now everybody thinks they have a chance to win because Rafa’s not here. Even though he hasn’t been playing, it’s a massive, massive hole that nobody can fill.”

Navratilova won the French Open twice in singles, seven times in doubles and twice in mixed doubles during her remarkable career.

Prakash Amritraj, a former ATP player and analyst for Tennis Channel, also gave his thoughts on what the great Spaniard’s absence means for both fans and players.

“I think as an audience member, for countless years we’ve always associated Roland Garros with Rafa, Rafa with Roland Garros. So many people come here just to get that bucket list hope of being able to catch him on a court over here,” Amritraj told Tennis Channel.

“On the players’ side of things, all of a sudden just emotionally you feel, ‘Wow, there is this huge, big chance.’ But I think once you step away from it a little bit, it is one person in a 128 [player] draw.

“And a lot of these other players who are playing great, they feel they’re playing great tennis, they have a shot to win. So once they kind of settle in, maybe it doesn’t affect them too much as they go after their own glory here.”

READ MORE: Rafael Nadal’s French Open clothing is revealed… but he may never wear it