Nadal ready for emotional French Open farewell

Nadal ready for emotional French Open farewell


The great Spaniard won his first title at Roland Garros as a teenager in 2005

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Paris (AFP) – Rafael Nadal will bring down the curtain on his 19-year French Open career with the likelihood of adding to his 14 titles greatly diminished before he leaves behind a record and reputation unlikely ever to be matched.

The great Spaniard, a 22-time Grand Slam champion, won his first title at Roland Garros as a teenager in 2005. A week on Monday, he will celebrate his 38th birthday.

A former world number one, who is now at 276 in the world, Nadal has only played 15 matches since January last year as a hip injury and then a muscle tear were added to a depressing litany of physical ailments which have forced him to miss 12 Grand Slam tournaments in his career.

Unseeded this year, his farewell to arms may be brief after he was drawn to face world number four Alexander Zverev in the first round with the match set for Monday.

"I'm going to play the tournament thinking that I can give my all, 100 percent," explained Nadal after a second-round exit in Rome.

"And if 100 percent is not enough to win a match, I'll accept that. But I don't want to step onto court knowing that I have no chance. If there's a 0.01 percent chance, I want to explore that and give it a go."

As well as 14 titles in Paris, Nadal can boast a record of 112 wins and just three losses, two of which came against career-long rival Novak Djokovic. He is also held in remarkably high esteem.

At his first training session on Court Philippe Chatrier at Roland Garros on Monday an estimated 6,000 people turned up to watch, many chanting his name. Fellow Grand Slam winners Stan Wawrinka and Daniil Medvedev practised with Nadal this week.

Wawrinka said Nadal was as "strong as ever" while Medvedev admitted he was "happy not to be facing" the Spanish star. Zverev has only beaten Nadal once in six clay-court meetings.

When they met in Paris in 2022, the German was forced to retire from their semi-final after sustaining a serious ankle injury.

"In my mind, I'm going to play peak Rafa Nadal. That's what I expect him to be. I expect him to be at his absolute best," said Zverev, who arrives in Paris having won the prestigious Rome Open title.

Djokovic under cloud

Nadal isn't the only A-list talent under a Paris cloud ahead of the tournament start on Sunday.

Defending champion and record 24-time Grand Slam title winner Djokovic, whose three titles in Paris put him alongside Gustavo Kuerten, Mats Wilander and Ivan Lendl, is enduring a title dry spell unseen since 2018.

Back then, he also reached May without a trophy before crashing to a shock quarter-final defeat at the French Open to unheralded Marco Cecchinato of Italy. This season, Djokovic has lost his Australian Open title and has yet to make a final.

Adding injury to insult, he was hit on the head by a falling water bottle in Rome, a freak accident which he claimed caused nausea and dizziness.

In an attempt to gather a degree of clay-court confidence, Djokovic, who turned 37 on Wednesday, grabbed a late wild card in the ongoing Geneva tournament. That ended in a shock semi-final loss to 44th-ranked Czech Tomas Machac on Friday.

Djokovic starts his campaign on Tuesday against home wildcard Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

Between them, Nadal and Djokovic have carved up the last eight French Open titles while 2009 was the last time a final at Roland Garros did not feature at least one of them.

World number two Jannik Sinner, the man who succeeded Djokovic as Australian Open champion, has been laid low by a hip injury which caused him to skip the Rome Open.

The 22-year-old Italian reached the quarter-finals of the French Open on his debut in 2020 where he was defeated by Nadal in straight sets. "I'm not concerned anymore about my hip. The last tests we made, they were very positive. That's why I'm here," said the Italian.

Sinner, who faces Chris Eubanks of the United States in his opener, has an extra incentive to progress deep in Paris as he could depose Djokovic as world number one. Carlos Alcaraz, the reigning Wimbledon champion, also skipped Rome to nurse an arm injury.

The world number three, who meets American lucky loser J.J. Wolf in his first round, took a set off Djokovic in their semi-final last year before body cramps saw him slip to defeat.