Rafael Nadal has realigned his ambitions – and it affects his French Open decision

Kevin Palmer
Rafael Nadal speaks
Rafael Nadal, of Spain, attends a press conference

Rafael Nadal appears to have realigned his ambitions – and that means we are likely to see him at the French Open for one last time.

The 14-time Roland Garros champion has persistently stated he would not play at the Paris Grand Slam unless he felt he could be competitive and challenge for another title to round of his remarkable story in the French capital.

“If I was in Paris today, I wouldn’t go out to play,” Nadal told reporters in Madrid last month.

“I’m going to do the things I have to do to be able to play in Paris. And if I can, I can and if I can’t, I can’t.

“I’m going to Paris if I feel like I’m good enough… I’m going to Paris if I feel capable enough to compete.”

They were the sentiments of a champion who has never accepted the second prize as any kind of consolation over the course of his career, yet Nadal’s mood changed after he was outclassed by No 7 seed Hurkacz on a blistering warm day and slumped to a 6-1 6-3 defeat.

While he was competitive in the match for long periods, the intensity and consistency that made Nadal so tough to beat on clay throughout his career was missing against Hurkacz in a match that gave him the answers he needed over whether he could be a contender for the title at the French Open.

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Harsh though this may seem for the greatest clay court player of all-time, but the brutal reality must be that he will be making up the numbers if he plays in Paris and his post-match comments suggested he agrees with those sentiments.

“You can see today on the court how difficult is and now there are two ways,” said Nadal, as he pondered where his game was at as he decides whether to play at the French Open.

“Probably one is to say, okay, I am not ready, I am not playing enough well. Then is the moment to take a decision in terms of not playing Roland Garros.

“Another is to accept how I am today and work the proper way to try to be in a different way in two weeks.

“The decision, as you can imagine, is not clear in my mind today. But if I have to say what’s my feeling and if my mind is closer one way or the other way, I going to say be in Roland Garros and try my best.

“Physically I have some issues, but not probably yet enough to say not playing in the most important event of my tennis career.

“Let’s see what’s going on, how I feel myself mentally tomorrow, after tomorrow, and in one week. If I feel ready, I going to try to be there and fight for the things that I have been fighting the last 15 years, if now seems impossible.”

For the first time, it appears Nadal is pondering the prospect of playing a final French Open knowing he can’t win in Paris and may well be comprehensively beaten on the Philippe-Chatrier court that has showcased his brilliance like no other.

Yet Nadal should not apologise if he plays at Roland Garros knowing he is not a serious contender to win the title.

This magnificent champion has earned the right several times over to decide how and when he makes his exit from a sport he has helped to enhance on a global stage for so many years.

For so many reasons, Nadal owes it to himself and the tennis fans around the world who want to see him play at Roland Garros one last time to go through what he would view as a humbling defeat against an opponent he would have beaten with plenty to spare throughout his career.

Yet the Nadal we are watching on the farewell lap of his career is not that ultimate warrior who tripped through rivals and beat them almost before he set foot on a Philippe-Chatrier arena he made his own long ago.

Nadal should get the final cheer he deserves at the French Open, the concluding ovation reserves only for the game’s greats.

He won’t get the send-off he dreamed about in his long battle back from injury, but having come this far, he needs to let his career reach its natural conclusion.