Fit-again Nadal leaves door open to continuing career beyond 2024

In his first match since the 2023 Australian Open in January, Nadal showed no obvious after-effects of the hip injury that ruined his season

By Reuters

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Spain''s Rafael Nadal hits a return during the doubles match at the Brisbane International on Sunday. Nadal and his partner Marc Lopez lost to Australia's Max Purcell and Jordan Thompson. — AFP
Spain''s Rafael Nadal hits a return during the doubles match at the Brisbane International on Sunday. Nadal and his partner Marc Lopez lost to Australia's Max Purcell and Jordan Thompson. — AFP

Published: Sun 31 Dec 2023, 5:22 PM

Last updated: Sun 31 Dec 2023, 5:23 PM

Rafael Nadal refused to rule out playing beyond the 2024 season as he made a comeback from a hip injury that sidelined him for nearly a year, but the Spaniard admitted on Sunday there was also a "high percentage" chance he may not return next summer.

Nadal returned to action for the first time since January at the Brisbane International on Sunday, losing his doubles match but overall showing no obvious after-effects of the hip injury that ruined his 2023 season.

The 22-time Grand Slam champion, who is gearing up for the Jan. 14-28 Australian Open, sustained the hip problem in his second round loss at Melbourne Park at the start of 2023 and ended his season early after having surgery in June.

Nadal rekindled his partnership with retired veteran Marc Lopez, with whom he won an Olympic gold medal in 2016, for his comeback but the duo lost 6-4 6-4 to Australians Max Purcell and Jordan Thompson at a packed Pat Rafter Arena.

"It's great to see Rafa back," said Thompson. "I've been on the receiving end a couple of times in singles, so it's nice to get him back on a doubles court."

The 37-year-old Nadal was warmly welcomed by fans who held up Spanish flags and supportive messages while the loudest cheers were reserved for his trademark whipped shots and a powerful crosscourt backhand winner in the opening set.

Nadal is likely to get a similar reception in his singles opener on Tuesday against qualifier Dominic Thiem, whom he beat in the 2018 and 2019 French Open finals and holds a 9-6 win-loss record against.

The 22-times Grand Slam champion had arthroscopic surgery on the iliopsoas muscle in his left hip in June after sustaining an injury during his second round defeat at the 2023 Australian Open by Mackenzie McDonald.

Nadal had previously said he expected to bring the curtains down on his glittering but injury-plagued career in 2024, but in a press conference ahead of his comeback at the Brisbane International he left the door ajar.

"The problem about saying it's going to be my last season is that I can't predict what's going on 100% in the future. That's the thing," Nadal said ahead of a doubles match on Sunday. "That's why I say probably."

The Brisbane tournament is a tune-up for the Jan. 14-28 Australian Open during the height of the country's summer.

"It's obvious it's a high percentage that it's going to be my last time playing in Australia. But if I'm here next year, don't tell me, 'you said it's going to be your last season' because I didn't say it," said Nadal, a two-time winner of the Australian Open men's singles title.

"You never know what's going on, you know? I can't predict how I'm going to be in the next six months. I can't predict if my body will allow me to enjoy tennis as much as I enjoyed the past 20 years."

In an interview on Dec. 13 with Spanish newspaper El Pais and published on Sunday, Nadal said he was already thinking about the French Open, where he has won 14 of his major titles.

He said he would have more clarity about his future by then.

"When I arrive in Paris, I will know if it is my last year. And there will be a prior announcement," Nadal said.

"There will have passed five months on the circuit and I'll know my reality: one can sense these things, but until he feels them he cannot do anything."

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