No te Rindas Nunca, Rafa

Post Australian Open, we’ve seen a year dominated by a totally new set of players. After Novak Djokovic claimed his 21st Grand Slam in Melbourne, the likes of Daniil Medvedev, Carlos Alcaraz, Holger Rune, Andrey Rublev and Jannik Sinner have been the standout performers on tour. Alcaraz has typified this, and has won an astonishing 4 titles despite suffering from a number of injury problems, holding a 29-2 record on the year.

Aside from a fairly obvious dip in form from Novak Djokovic, who has not won a title since the Australian Open, the most notable change we’ve seen in 2023 is the absence of Rafael Nadal. After getting injured at the Australian Open, Nadal was expected to spend a short amount of time on the sidelines, before re-joining the tour for the clay court season.

However, concerns began to mount when Nadal began to withdraw from each of the clay court events he had planned to play in April and May. Having withdrawn from all of the entirety of the pre-Roland Garros clay court events, hope still remained that Nadal would return for his most successful tournament. But any hopes of this were dashed this week after Nadal gave a difficult press conference at his academy, stating that he couldn’t play the French Open, and was unlikely to play again in 2023. Further to this, Nadal explained that 2024 may be his last year on tour.

“I didn’t make the decision, my body made the decision. To play Roland Garros is impossible,” he said. Next year will probably be my last year. That is my idea. If I keep going now I won’t be able to make it happen.”

“I was working as much as possible every single day for the past four months and they have been difficult because we were not been able to find the solution to the problems I had in Australia,” he added. I’m still in the position where I am not able to feel ready to compete at the standards I need to be to play at Roland Garros. I am not the guy who will be at Roland Garros just to try to be there and in a position where I don’t like to be.”

After Nadal’s prolonged absence, the news of his withdrawal from Roland Garros, although sad, did not come as a surprise. But the news that 2024 could be the last time we see Nadal play on tour understandably sent shockwaves across the tennis world. Seeing Roger Federer end his career last year at the Laver Cup alongside Nadal was one of the most poignant but sad moments in recent memory for tennis fans. All of a sudden, especially given Djokovic’s recent dip in form and the emergence of Alcaraz, Sinner and Medvedev, it feels like things are finally changing in men’s tennis, and that the era of the Big 3 is ending.

Despite this, that is not the message I want to leave you with this week. A quick google search will reveal that the title of this blog means ‘Never give up, Rafa’. That very sentiment has been synonymous with Nadal for his whole career. No matter how many injury issues, how dire the scoreline or how strong the opponent, Nadal has always found away of overcoming adversity throughout his career. Although it is impossible to go on forever, I believe Nadal is still capable of surprising us all again. Just one last time. Although it is great to see the emergence of new blood, some of us aren’t ready to see Rafa go yet, and neither is he.