Rafael Nadal to miss French Open, likely to retire in 2024

Rafael Nadal
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Rafael Nadal said he will likely retire from professional tennis in the second half of 2024, plus he will miss Roland Garros this year for the first time in 19 years with a left hip flexor injury that has sidelined him from competition since January’s Australian Open.

“Next year, that’s probably going to be my last year in a professional tour,” Nadal said in a Thursday afternoon press conference in his native Mallorca. “That’s my idea, even that I can’t say 100 percent that’s going to be like this, because you never know what can happen, but my idea and my motivation is try to enjoy and try to say goodbye of all the tournaments that have been important for me in my tennis career.”

The French Open begins May 28 with coverage on NBC and Peacock.

Nadal, the record 14-time French Open champion, said he will stop playing tennis “for a while” due to his injury. He estimated it could be one and a half to four months.

“We were not able to find the solution to the problem that I had in Australia,” he said.

On Jan. 19, Nadal said the normal recovery time for the injury was six to eight weeks. But it has been prolonged for the 36-year-old.

This past Sunday, a French sports daily L’Equipe report quoted a tournament director saying that Nadal’s agent Carlos Costa said Nadal was in “a race against time” to be ready for the French Open, according to translations.

Nadal last missed the French Open in 2004, when he had a stress fracture in his left ankle as a 17-year-old who had already beaten Roger Federer.

In 2005, he made his French Open debut and won the title, the first of his men’s record-tying 22 Grand Slam singles crowns.

Nadal shares that record with Djokovic, a two-time French Open champion. The 35-year-old Serb can now break the tie in Paris without having to face Nadal, though top-ranked Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz may be the favorite.

Djokovic’s chances are better at July’s Wimbledon, where he has won seven times and will likely be an overwhelming favorite.

Nadal missed the other three majors on multiple occasions during an — increasingly in recent years — injury-riddled career.

He also endured physical anguish at the French Open, most notably withdrawing before his third-round match in 2016 with a left wrist injury. He is 112-3 in French Open matches.

Last year, he won the title with congenital, degenerative left foot pain that threatened his career. He received two pain-killing injections before each of his seven matches so that he played with no feeling in the foot.

Afterward, Nadal underwent a radio frequency injection on a foot nerve in an attempt to alleviate the problem and prolong his career. It worked. He reached last year’s Wimbledon semifinals before withdrawing from that event with an abdominal muscle tear.

He finished 2022 ranked No. 2 in the world behind Alcaraz. He has since fallen outside the top 10 for the first time since April 2005 due to being sidelined the last four months with the hip injury.

Nadal will drop out of the top 100 next month, the first time his ranking will be in the triple digits since April 2003.

After July’s Wimbledon, Nadal will be older than any previous Grand Slam singles champion.

Next year, Roland Garros will also host the Paris Olympic tennis competition. The two-time gold medalist Nadal said Thursday he hopes to take part.

While Nadal needs to be one of the four-highest ranked Spanish men after next year’s French Open for direct Olympic qualification in singles, he can, essentially, temporarily freeze his ranking in the top 20 if this injury causes him to miss at least six months.

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At the French Open, a Ukrainian mom makes her comeback

Elina Svitolina French Open

Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, once the world’s third-ranked tennis player, is into the French Open third round in her first major tournament since childbirth.

Svitolina, 28, swept 2022 French Open semifinalist Martina Trevisan of Italy, then beat Australian qualifier Storm Hunter 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 to reach the last 32 at Roland Garros. She next plays 56th-ranked Russian Anna Blinkova, who took out the top French player, fifth seed Caroline Garcia, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 on her ninth match point.

Svitolina’s husband, French player Gael Monfils, finished his first-round five-set win after midnight on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. She watched that match on a computer before going to sleep ahead of her 11 a.m. start Wednesday.

“This morning, he told me, ‘I’m coming to your match, so make it worth it,'” she joked on Tennis Channel. “I was like, OK, no pressure.

“I don’t know what he’s doing here now. He should be resting.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Svitolina made at least one major quarterfinal every year from 2017 through 2021, including the semifinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2019. She married Monfils one week before the Tokyo Olympics, then won a singles bronze medal.

Svitolina played her last match before maternity leave on March 24, 2022, one month after Russia invaded her country. She gave birth to daughter Skai on Oct. 15.

Svitolina returned to competition in April. Last week, she won the tournament preceding the French Open, sweeping Blinkova to improve to 17-3 in her career in finals. She’s playing on a protected ranking of 27th after her year absence and, now, on a seven-match win streak.

“It was always in my head the plan to come back, but I didn’t put any pressure on myself, because obviously with the war going on, with the pregnancy, you never know how complicated it will go,” she said. “I’m as strong as I was before, maybe even stronger, because I feel that I can handle the work that I do off the court, and match by match I’m getting better. Also mentally, because mental can influence your physicality, as well.”

Svitolina said she’s motivated by goals to attain before she retires from the sport and to help Ukraine, such as donating her prize money from last week’s title in Strasbourg.

“These moments bring joy to people of Ukraine, to the kids as well, the kids who loved to play tennis before the war, and now maybe they don’t have the opportunity,” she said. “But these moments that can motivate them to look on the bright side and see these good moments and enjoy themselves as much as they can in this horrible situation.”

Svitolina was born in Odesa and has lived in Kharkiv, two cities that have been attacked by Russia.

“I talk a lot with my friends, with my family back in Ukraine, and it’s a horrible thing, but they are used to it now,” she said. “They are used to the alarms that are on. As soon as they hear something, they go to the bomb shelters. Sleepless nights. You know, it’s a terrible thing, but they tell me that now it’s a part of their life, which is very, very sad.”

Svitolina noted that she plays with a flag next to her name — unlike the Russians and Belarusians, who are allowed to play as neutral athletes.

“When I step on the court, I just try to think about the fighting spirit that all of us Ukrainians have and how Ukrainians are fighting for their values, for their freedom in Ukraine,” she said, “and me, I’m fighting here on my own front line.”

Svitolina said that she’s noticed “a lot of rubbish” concerning how tennis is reacting to the war.

“We have to focus on what the main point of what is going on,” she said. “Ukrainian people need help and need support. We are focusing on so many things like empty words, empty things that are not helping the situation, not helping anything.

“I want to invite everyone to focus on helping Ukrainians. That’s the main point of this, to help kids, to help women who lost their husbands because they are at the war, and they are fighting for Ukraine.

“You can donate. Couple of dollars might help and save lives. Or donate your time to something to help people.”

Also Wednesday, 108th-ranked Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis ousted three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3 in four and a half hours. Wawrinka’s exit leaves Novak Djokovic as the lone man in the draw who has won the French Open and Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz as the lone men left who have won any major.

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Marcell Jacobs still sidelined, misses another race with Fred Kerley

Marcell Jacobs

Olympic 100m champion Marcell Jacobs of Italy will miss another scheduled clash with world 100m champion Fred Kerley, withdrawing from Friday’s Diamond League meet in Florence.

Jacobs, 28, has not recovered from the nerve pain that forced him out of last Sunday’s Diamond League meet in Rabat, Morocco, according to Italy’s track and field federation.

In his absence, Kerley’s top competition will be fellow American Trayvon Bromell, the world bronze medalist, and Kenyan Ferdinand Omanyala, the world’s fastest man this year at 9.84 seconds. Kerley beat both of them in Rabat.

The Florence Diamond League airs live on Peacock on Friday from 2-4 p.m. ET.

Jacobs has withdrawn from six scheduled head-to-heads with Kerley dating to May 2022 due to a series of health issues since that surprise gold in Tokyo.

Kerley, primarily a 400m sprinter until the Tokyo Olympic year, became the world’s fastest man in Jacobs’ absence. He ran a personal best 9.76 seconds, the world’s best time of 2022, at last June’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Then he led a U.S. sweep of the medals at July’s worlds.

Jacobs’ next scheduled race is a 100m at the Paris Diamond League on June 9. Kerley is not in that field, but world 200m champion Noah Lyles is.

The last time the reigning Olympic and world men’s 100m champions met in a 100m was the 2012 London Olympic final between Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake. From 2013 to 2017, Bolt held both titles, then retired in 2017 while remaining reigning Olympic champion until Jacobs’ win in Tokyo, where Kerley took silver.

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