Rafael Nadal: Spaniard hopes to return to French Open and seek unlikely 15th title | Tennis News

As the sun sets on the glittering career of Rafael Nadal, is there enough left in the tank for one last push for an unlikely record-extending 15th French Open title?

Nadal is no stranger to long battles, no more so than against injury throughout his illustrious career.

His most recent issues saw him miss a chunk of 2023 due to a hip injury, to go with issues with his foot, his knees, and the tremendous toll his body takes due to his aggressively athletic style of play.

As the build-up on clay continues towards the second Slam of the year, fans will dare to hope that Nadal will extend his historic run of titles in Paris at the French Open.

The 37-year-old 22-time major champion will rely on his protected ranking to line up in the main draw of the French Open, which begins on May 26.

Over the course of a career that saw the Spaniard surpass Roger Federer’s haul of 20 Grand Slam titles, Nadal will look to win a record-extending 15th Roland Garros title, to take him to 23 Slams – just one behind Novak Djokovic.

But his path to glory will not been easy for Nadal who has been beset by injuries throughout his career.

Nadal’s injury list

Year Injury Tournaments affected
2003 Elbow Roland Garros debut
2004 Ankle stress fracture Roland Garros, Wimbledon
2006 Left foot Australian Open
2009 Tendonitis of the knee Wimbledon
2012 Tendonitis of the knee London 2012 Olympics, US Open
2013 Stomach virus Australian Open
2014 Right wrist US Open
2016 Left wrist Roland Garros, Wimbledon
2020 Covid bubble concerns US Open
2021 Left foot Wimbledon, Tokyo Olympics, US Open
2023 Left hip All four Slams
2024 Thigh muscle Australian Open

Nadal in 2024

Rafael Nadal, of Spain, celebrates after winning to Alex de Minaur, of Australia, during the Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament in Madrid, Saturday, April 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Nadal appeared to find his form at the Madrid Open where he received an emotional send-off after his fourth-round defeat

After spending most of last year out with a hip injury, his return in January was cut short after a muscle tear in Brisbane after defeating Dominic Thiem and Jason Kubler before losing in the quarter-finals to Jordan Thompson.

The former world No 1 ramped up and was in California preparing to compete at Indian Wells, but withdrew before the tournament.

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Tournament director Feliciano Lopez said Nadal’s last match of the Madrid Open was emotional due to him being the biggest sportsperson in Spain’s history

But last month he returned to action on his beloved clay, reaching the second round in Barcelona and the fourth round in Madrid where he gained revenge over Australia’s Alex De Minaur before going out to Czech Jiri Lehecka.

Away from the altitude of Madrid, the conditions in Rome are closer to what players will face in Paris, and success requires a lot of strength to hit through the ball on this energy-sapping surface.

Nadal can look imperious against much lower-ranked players, but he struggled to overcome world No 108 Zizou Bergs in the first round.

“My game is more unpredictable than before, I didn’t play much tennis for the last two years so have had some ups and downs, on and off,” Nadal said.

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Rafael Nadal waved an emotional farewell to the Madrid Open as his home fans applauded him off the court for the last time

He then came up against court savvy Hubert Hurkacz, where he struggled to impose his physical game on the giant Pole in a straight-sets defeat, appearing slow at times and lacking the lucidness to finish off points.

The 6-1 6-3 defeat was the most lopsided loss for Nadal on clay in 21 years, since also winning only four games against Gaston Gaudio in Hamburg in 2003 when he was only 16.

He appears to be so unsatisfied with his level of tennis that he’s still debating whether or not to go to Roland Garros.

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Nadal was given an incredible ovation in Rome after his defeat to Hubert Hurkacz and was then seen waving to fans when crossing the bridge at the Foro Italico

“One is to say, ‘OK, I am not ready, I am not playing well enough’,” Nadal said. “Another is 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. 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,” Nadal added.

“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.”

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Sky Sports Tennis caught up with football icon Luis Figo at the Madrid Open, who hailed Nadal’s career

So what about Rafa’s chances at Roland Garros?

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After his defeat to Hurkacz in Rome, Nadal says he will have to asses if he feels physically ready to compete at the French Open

Five sets on clay is a different question with physical and mental stamina key to progression at Roland Garros.

Nadal’s fighting spirit makes it very difficult for less experienced players in the early rounds to get a toe-hold in the match to take the Spaniard the distance.

Of course, it will be dependent on the draw, and Nadal will be coming in with a protected ranking, which means he will be entered for the main draw, but that does not apply to seeding, and he could face a top player in the early rounds, including defending champion Novak Djokovic.

Whatever happens, Nadal will receive an emotional send off at a tournament where he has held the Coupe des Mousquetaires 14 times during his trophy-laden career as well as an incredible 112-3 record.

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Jamie Murray feels Nadal deserves to finish his career in good health AND on his own terms…

What’s coming up on Sky Sports Tennis?

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Find out all the ways to watch tennis on Sky Sports, including the US Open, ATP and WTA tours

In the run-up to the second Grand Slam of 2024 – the French Open at Roland Garros from May 26 – you can watch all of the biggest tennis stars in action live on Sky Sports as they compete across the clay-court season.

  • Geneva Open (ATP 250) – May 20-26
  • Lyon Open (ATP 250) – May 20-26
  • Internationaux de Strasbourg (WTA 500 with Emma Raducanu in action) – May 20-26
  • Morocco Open (WTA 250) – May 20-26

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