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Rafael Nadal determined to go out on his own terms: “I didn’t deserve to finish like that”

The Spaniard has opened the door to retirement for the first time but wants to do things his way

Rafael Nadal, 2023 Rafael Nadal, 2023 | © AI / Reuters / Panoramic

It is something that every top sportsman and woman feels, when their career is nearing its end. The desire to go out on their own terms, without their body dictating what has to be done. It was something that Roger Federer was unable to do, bar an exhibition-style farewell at the Laver Cup; it’s the reason Andy Murray fights on with a metal hip, hoping for one last hurrah. And so, for the first time, Rafael Nadal has admitted that the end is near.

The Spaniard will not play at Roland-Garros this month, his hip not healed well enough to allow him to compete at the top level. Nadal turns 37 next month and will now take a break, perhaps for a few months, in an effort to extend his career into 2024, a year that he admits will “probably be my last”.

“My idea and my motivation is to try to enjoy the Tour and say goodbye to all the tournaments that I enjoyed playing,” he said. “The Olympic Games are one of them, but I can’t say yet that it will be my last tournament or not.”

Nadal: “To be back at the highest level would be a satisfaction”

And though missing out on his beloved Roland-Garros will hurt, what drives him on that hope that he can say goodbye in his way, being as competitive as ever, chasing more slam titles.

“What maintains things alive first is (having)…enough force to say that I didn’t deserve to finish like that,” he said, at a press conference on Thursday.

I had enough force and satisfaction during my career to make things happen by myself.

Rafael Nadal

“I had enough force and satisfaction during my career to make things happen by myself, always trying to reach high goals. Sometimes I could make it, sometimes not. To be back, competing at the highest professional level would be a satisfaction to finish the way I intend to.

“I’m aware that it’s not (like this at) the moment. But I’m also aware on the fact that it’s worth a last effort, it’s my philosophy, I keep it and I will fight for it. If the body responds, I will do things worth a lot of efforts.”

Rafael Nadal
Nadal at the Australian Open in 2023: @ AI/Reuters/Panoramic

Nadal admits wrong step

As he tried to get himself back on Tour during the clay-court season, Nadal and his team changed tack, attempting a different treatment in the hope of a quicker recovery. It didn’t work.

“There has been a time when we have taken a step back and made a wrong decision,” he said, speaking in Spanish. “I need to understand why the injury does not recover and why I cannot carry out my activity normally.

“I could fool you (by how fit he looks) but I’m not in a tournament. The reality is that I am not well. We have trained every day but I don’t recover.”

Pandemic took its toll

Listening to Nadal speak at his press conference, held at his academy in Mallorca, it was clear to hear the disappointment in his voice, as he discussed not being at Roland-Garros for the first time in his career.

But his determination also came through as he said how he hoped to be back playing, competing for the biggest titles in 2024.

What he also pointed out, though, was the impact the Coronavirus pandemic had on his fitness, perhaps a factor in where he stands today.

The real situation is I was not able to to enjoy my (daily) work since after the pandemic.

Rafael Nadal

“After a couple of years that of course in terms of results have been very positive, because I was able I was able to win a couple of Grand Slams and a couple of important tournaments, the real situation is I was not able to to enjoy my (daily) work since after the pandemic, my body was not able to hold the practices, to hold the (daily) work in a good way.

“So I was not able to enjoy the practices and the competition because was too many problems, too many times having to stop for physical issues and too many days of going here practising, but with with too much pain. So after said that I need to stop and I wanted to stop for a while.”

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