Rafael Nadal (File Photo | AP)
Rafael Nadal (File Photo | AP)

French open not the same without Nadal

If anyone cares about lofty standards, it is Nadal. He insisted that he would not play tennis if he couldn’t maintain the high standards he had set for himself.

The end may be near. One of the sport’s greatest stories—Rafael Nadal and the Parisian clay—may not get another chapter. Earlier this week, the Spaniard announced that he was pulling out of this year’s French Open as his injury was yet to heal fully. Nadal, of course, has defied his body multiple times. While his artistry wowed millions, how he continued to shatter the pain barrier is no joke. Yet, there comes a breaking point even for him. The 36-year-old could already be there. Be it elbows, knees or feet, his body has increasingly resembled a war zone in recent years, a reminder of the physicality he brought to the tennis court. Painkillers and injections became his constant companions; in 2022, he confessed he was in so much pain that he didn’t know if he would walk straight the next morning. So when he missed clay court warm-up tournaments ahead of the French Open this year, it was almost certain that time was running out for him. On May 18, Nadal said: “Today I do not feel myself at the standards I need myself to play at Roland-Garros.” There was a hint of retirement, that 2024 could be his last as a professional player.

If anyone cares about lofty standards, it is Nadal. He insisted that he would not play tennis if he couldn’t maintain the high standards he had set for himself. The revs, the court coverage, or the punishment to his knees showed fitness was always key for him. Clay is his favourite, and Roland Garros is his
cathedral. No player has ever dominated a tournament like Nadal at the French Open. His record of 113–3 is testimony to his dominance. Of the 22 Grand Slam titles he coveted, his 14 French Open titles will stand the test of time. His exit will leave a void that no player can fill. The romance and the aura at the event will not be the same.

Roger Federer has already retired, and the other member of the Big Three, Novak Djokovic, has already won one Slam this year. Still, he hasn’t given any eye-catching performances in the events leading up to Paris. With Paris set to host the next Olympics, never rule out the possibility of Nadal going out on a high. But he needs time to heal and mend his body for that to happen. Perhaps it’s time for the next generation of players to step in. The Daniil Medvedevs and Carlos Alcarazs must win more Grand Slams and take the legacy of the Big Three forward. Tennis needs big stars and rivalries, and it needs these soon.

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The New Indian Express
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