Rafael Nadal expresses that he is improving and hints that this year’s French Open might not be his final appearance

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Rafael Nadal arrives for training

Rafael Nadal appeared cheerful and optimistic during a recent news conference. Despite dealing with hip and abdominal issues for a while, he’s been playing well and feeling better in practice. He’s excited to start competing at Roland Garros, his favorite event that he describes as “magical.”

Although many assumed this might be Nadal’s final French Open due to his age and injuries, he hinted otherwise. At 38 years old and with past statements suggesting 2024 would be his last year on tour, people expected this to be his farewell tournament at Roland Garros.

When asked about this assumption, Nadal grinned and said not to jump to conclusions. While it’s a significant possibility that this could be his last appearance at the French Open, he can’t say for certain. His health issues, including hip surgery that kept him out of the tournament last year, have caused uncertainty.

Nadal has had a challenging couple of seasons, missing much of the last two years due to injuries. His record in 2024 is 7-4, and after a tough loss at the Italian Open, he had doubts about participating in the French Open at all.

Rafael trains at Roland Garros

But he did arrive and has been practicing in front of enthusiastic crowds this week. Due to his low ranking, currently at No. 276 after minimal activity, Nadal wasn’t seeded and was matched up against No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev for a highly anticipated match on Monday, Day 2 of the tournament.

“Ideally, I would have preferred to face him in the later rounds of the tournament, but that’s how it turned out. He’s unseeded this year; I am seeded,” Zverev remarked. “It’s a tough draw, but it’s tough for both of us. We’ll see how it goes.”

Nadal mentioned feeling more confident in his movement now compared to before and believes he can compete with anyone, which is something he hasn’t felt for a while.

“I can probably say this is the first week since I returned to tennis that I can move properly without many limitations,” he said. “That gives me encouragement.”

Zverev, fresh off a victory in Rome, is considered by many as one of the most talented players yet to win a Grand Slam title. He reached the final of the 2020 U.S. Open and was in top form two years ago at Roland Garros until he had to retire due to an ankle injury during his semifinal match against Nadal.

When Zverev’s brother, former player Mischa, told him about the draw’s result on Thursday, Zverev thought it was a joke.

And Zverev — whose ongoing court case linked to accusations of domestic abuse by a former girlfriend will resume with a hearing in his native Germany next week — said he can’t approach Monday’s match thinking about facing a weakened Nadal.

Nadal looks up at the ball in the training session

“For me, mentally, I’m going to face peak Rafa Nadal. That’s what I anticipate him to be. I anticipate him to be at his absolute best,” Zverev said. “I anticipate him to play the finest tennis he’s played in a long time on this court.”

Nadal clinched his 22nd major championship at the 2022 French Open despite playing with a left foot injury that required nerve-numbing injections. So competing with less-than-perfect health is not new to him.

He injured his hip during a second-round defeat at the Australian Open in January 2023 and later underwent surgery. A comeback in January was halted by a tear in a hip muscle near the original injury. An abdominal issue recurred later in the season.

While Nadal has often hinted at retirement, he stated on Saturday that he doesn’t want to “completely shut the door” because he enjoys playing tennis, traveling with his wife and young son, and, he added, “I haven’t had the chance yet to see how I will perform in more or less healthy conditions, playing without restrictions.”

He requested on Saturday to stop questions about his future while he figures things out, including a possible return to the French Open and how much longer he will continue to compete.


By Christopher Kamila

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