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Rafael Nadal Will Be Out Of The French Open, And Out Of Tennis After 2024

Rafael Nadal announces his withdrawal from the French Open
Clara Margais via Getty Images

When the announcement of a future announcement emerged Wednesday from Rafael Nadal's camp, in lightly Shamsian language, it was obvious it wouldn't contain good news. On Thursday, Nadal said that he would be missing the upcoming French Open—where he is the 14-time and defending champion—and a sizable chunk of the remaining season. He said he'll be taking an extended break not just from formal competition but from all training, due to a difficult recovery from a January hip injury. Nadal's goal now is simple and sad: to be fit enough to compete in the 2024 season, which he expects to be his last.

Nadal's career has seen several cycles of injury and robust recovery, but he turns 37 next month, and the rhythm is now different. During a second-round match at this year's Australian Open, where he was also the defending champ, Nadal chased down a ball and came up limping. He lost that match to Mackie McDonald in straight sets. Though he initially expected a 6-to-8 week recovery timeline, Nadal withdrew from tournaments week after week, eating into the clay season he has dominated for some 18 years. In April, he described the issue as "a major injury in the psoas muscle." In today's presser he said he still ends too many practice days in pain, and will take an indefinite break from the courts, which could be as short as six weeks or as long as four months. Nadal said that he hopes to enjoy his last season on tour, and that if he were to train and compete through the present pain, he would endanger that possibility.

In typical Nadal fashion, there were some soulful bits:

Nadal is the most accomplished clay player in the history of men's tennis, and his performance at the French Open is as anomalous as any achievement in sports. In 2005, his first appearance in the main draw, an 18-year-old Nadal won the title in his soon-to-be iconic capris and sleeveless shirt. He hasn't met much resistance since, maintaining a 112-3 lifetime record on those courts. Injuries have forced Nadal to miss major tournaments nine times since his first win, but he never misses his annual trophy appointment in Paris. His streak of 18 consecutive appearances will end when Roland-Garros begins a week from Sunday.

Given the dire tone of today's news, it's surreal to remember how successful Nadal was just last season. His 2022 campaign began with three straight hard-court titles, including the Australian Open. A loss to Taylor Fritz in the Indian Wells final was the only blemish on his 20-1 start. Moving onto clay, he did not win any warm-up tournaments, but won the French Open title anyway, on an anesthetized foot. At Wimbledon, he advanced to the semifinal before withdrawing with an abdominal injury. Since then, results have been mixed. An insurgent Frances Tiafoe removed him from the 2022 U.S. Open. That hip injury in Australia spoiled this season. As a result, in March 2023, Nadal fell out of the top 10 slots in the men's rankings. He had occupied the top 10 continuously since April 2005, a feat as absurd as any in his career.

It's hard to imagine a Roland-Garros without Rafael Nadal in it, ripping topspin winners and tearing around the clay. It's even harder to imagine professional tennis without Rafael Nadal in it. That more painful work begins now.

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