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Season 2024 likely to be Rafael Nadal’s last

  • Matt Trollope

Rafael Nadal expects 2024 to be the final year of his storied playing career, with the 22-time major champion worn down by persistent injuries.

The Spanish superstar, soon to turn 37, will also miss next week’s tournament at Roland Garros, where he has triumphed 14 times and would have been the defending champion.

Nadal made these announcements at his tennis academy on Thursday, during a press conference which boiled down to three key points.

His ongoing injuries were painful, robbing him of enjoyment to practise and compete. Those physical issues would force him to skip Roland Garros, and potentially sideline him for months. And he hoped to return for a final season in 2024 – to be competitive, to enjoy, and to say goodbye at significant tournaments. 

“I need to stop for a while, so my position is to stop. I don’t know when I gonna be able to come back to the practice court,” said Nadal, who has not competed since an injury-affected loss in the second round of Australian Open 2023.

“I am not the guy who likes to predict a lot the future. I’m just following my personal feelings, and just following what I really believe is the right thing to do, for my body and for my personal happiness.

“My ambition is to try to stop, to give myself an opportunity to enjoy next year, that probably gonna be my last year in the professional tour. 

“That’s my idea, even that I can’t say 100 per cent that’s gonna be like this, because you never know what can happen.

“But my idea, and my motivation, is to try to enjoy and try to say goodbye to all the tournaments that have been important for me in my tennis career during this year (2024), and just try to enjoy that, being competitive and enjoying being on court (which) is something that today is not possible. 

“I really believe that if I keep going now, I will not be able to make that happen.”

Nadal could not specify how long he would be sidelined in 2023, speculating it could be as little as six weeks, or possibly four months. 

However, having tried everything to overcome the psoas injury he sustained at Melbourne Park during his loss to Mackenzie McDonald, and after being forced to skip all the major clay-court tournaments leading into Roland Garros, he decided he could not continue while physically compromised.

“The last four months have been very difficult months, because we were not able to find the solution to the problem that I had in Australia,” he explained.

NADAL DEFIANT IN AO 2023 DEFEAT: "I didn't want to retire"

“Today, I'm still in the position that I’m not able to feel myself ready to compete at the standards that I need to be to play at Roland Garros.”

Nadal’s withdrawal from Paris means fellow major champion Dominic Thiem, also felled by injuries in recent years, will move into the main draw.

Nadal has been affected by injuries throughout his legendary career, dating back to his teenage years when he missed Roland Garros in 2004 – the last time he has not appeared at his beloved clay-court Grand Slam.

Yet they have become more regular and debilitating into his 30s, especially so in the past two years.

A foot injury ended his 2021 season in early August, making his Australian Open 2022 triumph especially staggering given how little match-play he had under his belt. 

He played with a cracked rib in the Indian Wells final – that sidelined him for another six weeks – and he managed to win the 2022 Roland Garros title while playing with a numbed foot, which immediately afterward required a radiofrequency nerve ablation treatment in the problematic area.

Somehow, he managed to get to the start line at Wimbledon, only to sustain an abdominal injury during his five-set quarterfinal win over Taylor Fritz. That forced him to withdraw ahead of his semifinal against Nick Kyrgios, and affected him throughout the rest of 2022. 

Then came the psoas injury at AO 2023.

Since Wimbledon 10 months ago, Nadal has played just 13 matches, and lost eight of them.

This inactivity saw him recently fall outside the top 10 for the first time since 2005; he had spent an incredible 912 consecutive weeks ranked in this elite bracket. 

Rafael Nadal exits Rod Laver Arena after losing in the second round of Australian Open 2023. (Getty Images)

“After a couple of years, that of course in terms of results have been very positive because I was able to win a couple of Grand Slams and another couple of important tournaments, the real situation is I was not able to enjoy my daily work,” Nadal said. 

“Since after the pandemic, my body was not able to hold the practises and the daily work in a good way. So I was not able to enjoy the practises and the competition because was too many problems, too many times, having to stop for physical issues. And too many days of practising, but with too much pain.”

Nadal was reluctant to reveal the playing schedule – and potential farewell tour – he envisaged for 2024.

Yet he did say he hoped to compete at the Paris Olympic Games, where the tennis event will also be staged at Roland Garros.