Nadal: ‘My Hope Is To Play Again And To Be Competitive’
Editor's note: This story was translated from ATPTour.com/es
More than eight months have passed since Rafael Nadal played his last match on the ATP Tour. The Spaniard, who has not competed since January’s Australian Open and underwent an operation on the iliopsoas muscle in his left leg in June, is still in the midst of the recovery process. Yet he is hopeful about a return to action.
The 22-time Grand Slam champion gave an in-depth interview this week to Movistar+, in which he discussed his current fitness, how a daily routine including golf helps him satisfy his hunger for competition, his thoughts on the future of tennis, and how he wants to get back to being one of the players to beat. He also answered questions on a range of topics, from personal projects to sporting decisions, while remaining aware that only time will bring all the answers.
“My hope is to play again, to be competitive again,” explained Nadal. “The hope is not returning and winning at Roland Garros again, or in Australia, let’s get that straight. I’m aware that at this point of my life, that is very far off. I’m not saying it’s impossible, I’ve said it thousands of times, because things in sport change very quickly.”
For Nadal, the fast pace of sport is in stark contrast to his current reality. It is a question of patience, perseverance, and acceptance.
“It’s boring, I play without moving as intensely as I’m used to doing,” said Nadal. “I have to tread carefully and stay within myself at all times. I know that I have to be careful. I’ve been through many periods of recovery, and I always get bored, but that doesn’t take away from my focus and the care of doing it day in, day out. Luckily, since a few weeks ago, I’ve been able to play golf. That’s the only thing I can compete in at this point. It distracts me and competing is a necessity for me.”
The Mallorcan, who is going through one of the longest absences of his career, is in no doubt about his progress. At 37 years of age, with the experience that can only be earned through time, he knows how to take care of the aspects that are within his control in order to take the next step.
“I’m not frustrated for one simple reason; to the best of my ability, I’ve done everything so that things have gone as well as possible for me,” explained the Spaniard, accepting that an athlete of his class may have to go through these trials and tribulations. “[It is possible to] be frustrated with 22 Grand Slams. For example, for Novak it is more intense. To him, it would have been more frustrating not to get [the record for majors]. Maybe that’s why he's achieved it.
“As well as the iliopsoas, on June 2, I had a hip operation. It’s been a very tough year and a half since the rib injury in Indian Wells, despite the Roland Garros title. The results sometimes belie the daily reality. My iliopsoas was very bad and the operation was a solution. They told me that if I didn’t have the operation I wouldn’t recover even if I stopped for a long time. I took the decision, and the operation went well, but it’s a long time. I’ve been on holiday for five weeks only doing gym.”
Nadal, who hinted in May that 2024 might be the last season of his career, maintains that it is just a possibility among many, and that only time will tell.
“Now it’s a controllable pain, nothing I can’t handle," said the Spaniard. "I’m not sure what I’ll do in 2024, because the way I approach the year completely changes depending on what my goals are. If I don’t recover, that’s one thing, if I can compete on a level that excites me, that’s another thing altogether... Of course, in that case, I would play. But not with the schedule I’d like to have.
“I still have no need to answer that [now]. If I can play, but I’m not at the level to win at Roland Garros, maybe I will decide to have a goodbye tour. I can’t answer that right now. The Olympic Games would be the icing on the cake if I’m competitive. My schedule would change if I feel like I have a chance of playing and winning at Roland Garros.
“My hope is that in two months, mid-November, I’ll be able to say where I am. How I am physically, and above all how the injury is. We haven’t set a timeframe. First, I have a recovery process, I’m training 40 minutes, three days a week. This is my day-to-day schedule and I work a lot of hours in the gym and on recovery. Will it be my last year? Have I planned it that way? Well, what if that’s not the case? What if, suddenly, after a long break, my body recovers and I feel strong enough and have enough energy to continue? Why would I lie and then say something else?
"I’m prudent, when I know the answer, I’ll say something. I take it day by day with the hope of having the option to decide.”
With a legendary sporting career under his belt, the Spaniard still has plenty to look forward to in the future. With a world-class academy and various business initiatives in sectors such as tourism and hospitality, Nadal has plenty to keep him busy.
“I have a lot of projects and things will develop organically,” he explained. “If I stop today, I can start working on many other things I have going on, personal projects. The academy. I can see myself as a coach, but that won’t be the main thing in my life."
In a long and broad chat, Nadal dedicated a few words to Carlos Alcaraz, the man who looks destined to take the baton from him as Spain’s leading tennis player on Tour over the coming years. He was full of praise for an athlete who, like him, began making history before the age of 20.
“It’s not hyperbole, it’s logical,” said Nadal. “There is a new kid who has arrived and is No. 1 in the world, who has won Grand Slams. For me that’s not an exaggeration. His future is boundless, he is young, powerful, ambitious... I don’t think there’s any doubt that he could become someone very, very big. Of course, lots of things can happen in an athlete’s career. And there are things that are beyond their control.”