Rafael Nadal: Madrid Withdrawal Puts Roland Garros in Jeopardy

Rafael Nadal in defeat at the Australian Open.

The clay-court swing is now well-underway, but has been rolling along with one very noticeable absence. Rafael Nadal, surely the greatest player ever to step foot on the red clay, has not yet hit a shot in anger this spring. After missing Monte Carlo and Barcelona, Nadal’s slower-than-expected recovery from a left hip flexor injury suffered at the Australian Open has now also forced him out of the Madrid Open.

Nadal’s frustrations were palpable in the statement he released to announce his withdrawal from Madrid.

“(This injury) was supposed to keep me out six to eight weeks, but I have been out 14,” Nadal pointedly noted in a message, posted on Instagram in Spanish on Thursday. “We have followed all the medical advice, but my recovery has not gone as they said it would, and now we find ourselves in a difficult situation.”

The frustration is understandable. The Spaniard has won the Madrid Open on a tournament-record five occasions and boasts a 54-13 career record at the Masters 1000 event in his home country. Nadal had hoped to return to the winner’s circle after falling in the quarter-finals or semifinals in his last four appearances.

Of course, the real frustration stems from the larger implications of Nadal’s withdrawal. The French Open is a little over a month away and the 36-year-old still has no clear timetable for getting back on the court, leaving the 14-time Roland Garros champ in serious jeopardy of missing the tournament where he has built his legacy. Even if he is cleared to play in the coming weeks, it’ll take plenty more work for Nadal to play himself into the condition needed to survive the grind of two weeks of best-of-five battles.

In 2022, Nadal quieted questions about retirement by turning back the clock, winning his 21st and 22nd career Grand Slam titles and finishing the year back at #2 in the world. In other words, don’t bet against Rafa’s resilience. The question isn’t his own determination, but whether his body will cooperate.

Main photo credit: Mike Frey-USA TODAY Sports