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Inside the Line...

INSIDE THE LINES: OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS AT ROLAND-GARROS WITHOUT RAFAEL NADAL

by Mike McIntyre

May 23, 2023

Hello tennis fans and welcome to “Inside the Lines,” a column I’ll be writing for the National Bank Open presented by Rogers each week that features news and storylines from the world of men’s tennis.

Are you a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty kind of tennis fan?

With the recent announcement from Rafael Nadal that he will be forced to miss Roland-Garros, tennis fans, and most certainly Rafa fans, have been forced to adopt one view or the other to help come to terms with his absence from his favourite and most successful tournament in Paris this year.

Let’s first take a look at the circumstances surrounding his withdrawal from the event before we discuss the potential options we have as a tennis community to help cope with the loss of the world’s all-time best clay court player.

Never one to shy away from committing his entire body towards his craft, Nadal’s punishing style has been bound to catch up with him at times over his career. He’s experienced more injuries than most and yet has also persevered and achieved arguably as much as anyone that has ever played the sport on a professional level. Some of the many setbacks he’s experienced in his career include:

  • Stress fracture in ankle
  • Recurring left foot injury
  • Tendonitis in knees
  • Wrist injury
  • Appendix surgery
  • Abdominal tear
  • Hip injury

The above list is by no means comprehensive, in fact, I was only looking at injuries that have caused him to miss Grand Slam events over his career. The fact that Nadal is even still competing at the age of 36 (37 in June) is most impressive considering the wide range of physical challenges and limitations he has faced over the years.

Read also: Daniil Medvedev captures first clay-court title in Rome

This year Nadal has been out of action since his second-round loss to Mackenzie McDonald at the Australian Open back in January. A frustrating hip injury has not healed as quickly as anticipated and Nadal spoke in a recent press conference from his training academy in Majorca to discuss his desire to return to the court when he does manage to get healthy again.

“I believe I don’t deserve to finish (now). I think I have fought enough during all my sporting career so that my end is not today, here in a press conference. My ending will be in another way and I will fight so that my end will be in another way.”

2023 will not be the first time that Nadal has had to miss the French Open, although this will be the first time the Spaniard isn’t present since his initial appearance there in 2005. In 2003 at the tender age of 16, a young Rafa missed the event due to an injury he sustained to his elbow while training. A year later in 2004, Nadal once again was not capable of playing in Paris, this time due to a left ankle fracture. I suppose Rafa was sensing the need to make up for those two missed opportunities while still a teenager because he won the event the following year in 2005 in his maiden appearance on the terre battue and he’s never really looked back since then.

Until now.

So let’s return to my original question this week on Inside the Lines. When it comes to Nadal’s recent decision to skip Roland-Garros, are you taking a glass-half-full or half-empty approach in terms of how you process the news?

Read also: The Importance of a Mental Timeout

If you can’t get over the fact that he won’t be there this year to try to achieve a ridiculous 15th conquest at Roland-Garros and feel like the men’s tournament for you just won’t be the same without him, then I guess you’re only able to look at the glass half-empty. I can’t fault you for this and I can relate, as my own father is quite dismayed that his favourite player won’t be in the draw and I know that for him it won’t be the same without Rafa.

If you’re able to look past the short-term disappointment however and instead focus on the fact that Nadal has announced that he absolutely is committed to recovering from this injury and returning to the ATP Tour to finish his career on his own terms, then you’ve taken the glass half-full approach. Whether he is able to return in 2023 or not remains to be seen. I don’t expect him to even try it until after the grass court season has ended. Fingers crossed that we might see him return in time for Toronto where he has captured the National Bank Open title an impressive five times, twice in Toronto (2008, 2018) and three times in Montreal (2005, 2013, 2019).

Read also: 100 Days Until the National Bank Open

At the very least we know he’s intent on returning to play for the 2024 season, which by his own admission very likely will be his last. This will allow him to play his favourite events one last time and say goodbye to his fans in those fortunate cities before he officially hangs up the racquet. This should help Rafa fans feel optimistic that there are still moments to look forward to for their favourite player.

Aside from the tennis fans who opt to look at Rafa’s decision to miss Paris this year with a glass-half-full perspective, there will no doubt also be some of his peers (aka every other player in the men’s draw) who also adopt this approach. What an opportunity for the rest of the men’s field to actually have a chance to win in Paris this year! Over the past eighteen editions of the tournament, only four times has Rafa not won the title and offered someone else the chance to experience a win at Roland-Garros. Novak Djokovic has accomplished the feat twice, and Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka once apiece.

Read also: Rublev Reigns at Monte-Carlo Masters

From youngsters like Carlos Alcaraz and Holger Rune to established but still developing talents like Felix Auger-Aliassime and Casper Ruud as well as veterans like Djokovic, a sense of possibility must be felt this year at the French Open like we haven’t seen since before Nadal began is stretch of dominance in Paris. A glass half-full indeed in that regard.

Meanwhile for Rafa, we can only hope that 2024 affords him the chance to return to Roland-Garros and captivate the crowds one last time before he hangs up his racquet for good.

“My idea is that this last effort is worth leaving everything so that the last year will be something special,” Nadal said about his future. “My tennis and above all my body will tell me what will happen.”