No series is eternal, and time always ends up catching up with those who try to escape it. At almost 37 years old, and after having pushed his limits for a long time, Rafael Nadal has experienced it. The man with fourteen crowns at Roland-Garros announced on Thursday May 18 that he would not defend his title at the 2023 edition of the Parisian Grand Slam tournament (May 22-June 11). Since his debut at Porte d’Auteuil in 2005, at the age of 18, the Majorcan has never missed the biggest clay court tournament in the world. The one who made him king, and made him statue during his lifetime – in 2021.
“Unfortunately, my injury has not evolved as I imagined, and it is impossible for me to play Roland-Garros this year. You can imagine how difficult it is for me. It’s a decision my body made. »he explained during a press conference.
After racing against the clock, as so many times in the past, Nadal did not manage, this year, to tame his pain to enter the running in Paris. With the exception of his first two years as a professional, even before coming of age, the player had participated in all editions of Roland-Garros without interruption since 2005. And only a wrist injury, in 2016, forced to retire on the eve of his third lap.
Eliminated in the second round of the Australian Open by the American Mackenzie McDonald (6-4, 6-4, 7-5), Rafael Nadal, greatly reduced by an injury to the psoas-iliac of the left leg, ” [espérait] just that it’s nothing too serious and that I won’t be away from the courts for too long”. The corecord holder of the number of Grand Slam tournament titles for men (22, tied with Novak Djokovic) has not played a single match since, and his health concerns are piling up.
No retirement in sight
For two years, the Spanish champion has had a dotted career, interspersing periods of domination and injury stops. Enough to feed his legend – especially during his returns to Roland-Garros, where he invariably won –, fill his trophy cabinet, but also ask questions about the rest. His iliopsoas injury in his left leg, which hasn’t healed for months (he initially thought it would last six to eight weeks), is just the latest of the physical glitches he has accumulated; including the Müller-Weiss syndrome in the left foot which returned in the summer of 2021 (a necrosis, which forced him to evolve under infiltration last year) or an abdominal injury.
“It’s sports. You have to try your best until the end, no matter what chances of victory you haveexposed the player in January, after his elimination during the Australian Open. This is the philosophy, the essence of the sport. I have tried to follow this principle throughout my career. » Injured, and clearly diminished, the Mallorcan had chosen not to give up, when he could neither run nor hit backhand. “I wanted to finish the gamehe continued, referring to a personal choice. I didn’t want to give up as defending champion. »
Accustomed to fighting, and to manhandling his body to compete on the courts, Rafael Nadal throws in the towel before starting “his” Parisian fortnight, the one during which he celebrates his birthday each year (June 3), and which ends – almost – each time with his coronation.
” I like what I do, [et] I know that this life in tennis, which already represents more than half of my life, will not be eternal”, assured the Majorcan after his elimination at the Australian Open. Way to say that, even if he spent a large part of his career juggling between treatment protocols, the game was worth the candle.
An open tournament, in the absence of the boss
By dint of imagining him every year, then seeing him push his limits – sometimes, by jeopardizing his future, like last year, when he won the tournament despite many infiltrations at his left foot – we ended up forgetting about it. Since 2005, Rafael Nadal and Roland-Garros had more or less become synonymous. In 115 games played at Porte d’Auteuil, the Mallorcan lost only… three times – against Robin Söderling in 2009, and Novak Djokovic in 2015 and 2021. 115 games that made him prince of the city, then king of the world.
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The 2023 edition of Roland-Garros will therefore be the first of the rest of life, the one where Rafael Nadal no longer treads Parisian clay – even if the Spaniard did not rule out, Thursday, to line up again at Rolland-Garros in a year. If Nadal will always be present at the Porte d’Auteuil, thanks to his life-size statue inaugurated two years ago, the throne of the Parisian Major is vacant. And the candidates are sharpening their blades for the duels to come, starting with the Spanish prodigy Carlos Alcaraz, the new world number one who would have nothing against taking over without waiting for his august compatriot.
After the retirement of Roger Federer, and the package of Nadal, of the three greats who flew over the tennis of the XXIe century, only Novak Djokovic remains for this edition. A double winner in Paris (2016 and 2021) with thwarted spring preparation. When asked on Wednesday, after his defeat in the quarter-finals of the Masters 1000 in Rome, if he felt like a favorite at Roland-Garros, “Nole” did not hidden : “It all depends on whether Nadal plays or not. » Even for its great rival, Roland-Garros will not be quite the same without Rafael Nadal.