Why Rafael Nadal’s retirement plan may never materialise
It was in hope as much as expectation that Rafael Nadal declared his intention to return to the court for the 2024 season.
Yet that dream may be forlorn.
The sadness emerging from his press conference on Thursday did not focus on what became his inevitable withdrawal from the French Open in Paris, but more the confirmation that the 22-time Grand Slam champion is thinking about the end of his career.
Nadal wants to make a final comeback to compete in the 2024 season, as he hinted at a farewell tour of his favourite tournaments to end his remarkable career on a high.
“My goal and my ambition is to try and stop and give myself an opportunity to enjoy the next year that will probably be my last year in the professional tour,” Nadal said at a press conference at his Academy in Manacor.
“That is my idea but I can’t say 100 per cent it will be like this, you never know. But my idea and my motivation is to try to enjoy and say goodbye to all the tournaments that have been important for me.
“To enjoy being competitive and something that today is not possible. I believe, if I keep going now, I will not be able to make it happen.”
As was the case with his great friend and rival Roger Federer, the end of a legendary career is hard to contemplate both for the icon at the heart of this story and his arm of fans around the world.
Federer made several attempts to come back to his best, daring to believe there was a final moment of glory left in his story.
Yet even the greats have to admit the end has come sooner rather than later and Nadal may be closer to that moment than even he believes right now.
“Since after the pandemic, my body was not able to do the practice or diary work in a good way,” he conceded.
“So I was not able to enjoy the practice and competition because too many problems, too many times having to stop for physical conditions and too many days off not practising because of too much pain.
“I need to stop for a while. My position is to stop and I don’t know when I can come back to the practice court.
“I will stop for a while, maybe one month, maybe two months, maybe three months. I am a guy who doesn’t like to predict too much the future. I am following what I believe is the right thing to do for my body and my personal happiness.
“I don’t want to say one thing and do the other. It is better to hold the options open and see what is the best calendar possible.
“I would like to play the things that are important for me and of course the Olympic Games is an important competition and one I hope to play. Will it be my last or not? I cannot say.”
Nadal’s withdrawal from the tennis landscape, possibly for the rest of 2023, will be a hammer blow to the spot.
He will now drop out of the world’s top 100 in the ATP rankings and will face a big battle to get back to the top, but it was clear that he is not ready to accept he is done.
One of the reasons why Nadal is one of the sport’s all-time greats is he has never known when he is beaten and has often gone through the pain barrier to achieve remarkable success.
His most recent triumphs have been achieved despite his body telling him to stop, with his win at the French Open last year achieved with the help of pain-killing injections in his foot.
As he admitted in his latest press briefing, Nadal will not want to come back merely to wave farewell to the tennis world while playing a brand of tennis that does not do justice to his legacy.
He will make an attempt to come back and play again, but there is a real danger we have seen the last of the great Rafael Nadal on a professional tennis court.
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