Rafael Nadal admitted he is staring at the end of his tennis career after announcing he will miss the French Open and the majority of the season ahead of what he expects to be a farewell tour in 2024.
The 22-time grand-slam champion has not played since his second-round exit at the Australian Open in January.
Nadal struggled with a hip injury during the straight-sets defeat to Mackenzie McDonald and the ongoing issue has failed to recover sufficiently in order for the 36-year-old to chase a 15th title at Roland Garros.
The 14-time French Open champion now plans to rest for the coming months with the aim to recover so he can play at “important tournaments” in 2024 during what will be his final year on the ATP Tour.
“My goal and my ambition is to try and stop and give myself an opportunity to enjoy the next year that will probably be my last year in the professional tour,” Nadal told reporters.
“That is my idea but I can’t say 100 per cent it will be like this, but my idea and my motivation is to try to enjoy and say goodbye to all the tournaments that have been important for me.
On next week’s French Open, Nadal explained: “First thing, I’m not going to be able to play in Roland Garros.
“I was even working as much as possible every single day for the last four months, they have been very difficult months because we were not able to find a solution to the problems I had in Australia.
“Today I’m still in a position where I am not able to feel myself ready to compete at the standards I need to be to play Roland Garros.
“I am not the guy who will be at Roland Garros just to play.”
Nadal claimed brilliant victories at the Australian Open and French Open last year but was fighting his body, with a chronic foot problem, fractured rib and an abdominal strain that forced him out of Wimbledon keeping him off the court for spells prior to this latest injury.
His withdrawal from the French Open had appeared increasingly inevitable but the news he will also sit out Wimbledon, and almost certainly the US Open as well, is a major blow to the sport, which must now prepare to say goodbye to the Spaniard having seen his great rival Roger Federer bow out last autumn.
Nadal suggested he might try to turn out for Spain at the Davis Cup later this year, while a major target in 2024 will be the Olympic Games in Paris, with the tennis events being played at Roland Garros next summer.
“After a couple of years that in terms of results have been positive because I was able to win a couple of grand slams and important tournaments, the real situation is I was not able to enjoy my diary work,” Nadal said.
“I need to stop for a while. My position is to stop and I don’t know when I can come back to the practice court.
“I will stop for a while, maybe one month, maybe two months, maybe three months. I am a guy who doesn’t like to predict too much the future. I am following what I believe is the right thing to do for my body and my personal happiness.
“I don’t want to say one thing and do the other. It is better to hold the options open and see what is the best calendar possible.
“I would like to play the things that are important for me and of course the Olympic Games is an important competition and one I hope to play. Will it be my last or not? I cannot say.”
Speaking in Spanish about his motivation for keeping going, Nadal added: “I don’t think I deserve to end like this. I’ve worked hard enough throughout my career for my end not to be in a press conference.”
Nadal’s compatriot Carlos Alcaraz, who will be the top seed for the French Open, sent his best wishes on Twitter, saying: “Good luck Rafael! Very painful and sad for everyone that you can’t be at Roland Garros or play more this year, but I hope that 2024 will be a great season for you and that you can say goodbye like the great champion you are.”
Alcaraz will now lead the favourites at Roland Garros along with Novak Djokovic, who can claim the outright men’s record for slam singles titles if he wins a 23rd.
Speaking on Amazon Prime Video, former British number one Tim Henman said: “I think the real positive is that he is prepared to give it one last effort, and that’s what Rafa’s always been about, giving 100 per cent to everything he’s doing.
“And fingers crossed he can find that physical wellbeing to be back out on tour. If 2024 is his last year then I really hope that he can enjoy it and I hope we can enjoy it and the fans can enjoy it because he deserves that send-off.”