Tennis: For the Olympics: Nadal plans triumphant return to Paris

Tennis: For the Olympics: Nadal plans triumphant return to Paris

The first-round exit against Alexander Zverev hurts, the farewell to the French Open is emotional – but Rafael Nadal is not finished yet. He makes a decision for one last hurrah in Paris.

A touching scene from his father Sebastián shows that Rafael Nadal’s legacy will remain unforgettable even after his departure from the French Open. Shortly before his son’s first-round exit against Alexander Zverev, the 60-year-old visited the steel statue that has stood in the Stade Roland Garros in honor of the record champion since 2021. Video clips on social media show Nadal’s father approaching the monument reverently, stroking his white-gray hair almost a little ashamed, and taking a souvenir photo.

The statue shows tennis star Nadal with his typical forehand shot with extreme topspin. With this, the Spaniard has driven his opponents to despair at Grand Slam tournaments on clay for almost two decades and set several records: open mouth, swinging shot, dynamic legs. At some moments, this Rafael Nadal could also be admired in the first-round showdown against Zverev on Monday. But that was not enough. The clay court king resigns without a 15th and final French Open victory – but there could be one last triumphant return to Paris.

“My thoughts are going all the way to the Olympic Games,” said the 37-year-old when asked about his approaching career end. At the Olympic tennis tournament in the Stade Roland Garros, the exceptional talent wants to say goodbye to the big tennis stage and be more competitive than at his 19th and most likely last French Open start. To do this, he will probably forego the grass classic in Wimbledon.

Zverev believes in Nadal’s return

The two-time Wimbledon winner said he sees the grass season as “difficult”: “I don’t know if it would be so smart, after everything that has happened to my body, to switch to a completely different surface and then go back to clay.” The third Grand Slam tournament of the season starts on July 1 this year, and the Olympic tennis tournament on clay begins on July 27.

Until then, Nadal, who is plagued by injuries, wants to fight his way even closer to the top of the world. “I wasn’t that far away,” said the 22-time Grand Slam tournament winner after the three-set defeat in his “living room” Court Philippe Chatrier against Zverev, “that’s my feeling and my truth.” At least the Spanish media saw it that way too, with “Mundo Deportivo” writing of an “epic adiós.”

The progress that the old master has made since his latest comeback in mid-April is “impressive,” said Zverev. The Hamburg native can’t really imagine that Nadal will really stop after the season. “I still believe that he will come back next year,” said the Tokyo Olympic champion on Eurosport. And if not, he would like to play against him again at the Summer Games in Paris – “but in the final,” as Zverev smiled and added: “I don’t feel like it in the first round anymore, that was enough for me.”

Nadal’s current form is not enough

Nadal would also have liked to avoid the tournament favorite Zverev at the start, but as an unseeded world number 275 he was dependent on luck in the draw. Nadal had no luck in the draw or in the match itself, which he might have been able to turn around if he had served to win the second set. But his current form was not enough against the world number 4. The fourth defeat in only 116 matches at his favorite tournament was to be expected – and still hurt.

Nadal found consolation in the warm farewell applause of the 15,000 spectators. Among them was not only his 19-month-old son Rafael junior, who watched the match on the lap of his mother Xisca Perelló. World number one Novak Djokovic and Iga Swiatek as well as fellow countryman Carlos Alcaraz did not want to miss the spectacle either. He was “happy” about it, said Nadal, “because it means that I have left a positive legacy.”

Source: Stern

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