'I'm sure that one day I will be a former elite athlete': Nadal discusses potential retirement plans ahead of return
Recurring injuries which have been Nadal’s greatest demons throughout his career.
Rafael Nadal is enjoying one of his most successful tennis seasons to date, even at 36 years old. He won the Australian Open in February, only his second ever, and in doing so followed in Novak Djokovic’s footsteps in becoming the only men’s players to have won each slam event at least twice in their careers in the Open Era. Also Read | 'It was really embarrassing situation': Former tennis player recalls when he was in 'underwear' in front of Federer
He then followed it up with his 14th title at Roland Garros, adding to a legacy which has already cemented him as the greatest clay court player of all time, by some distance. He also reached the semifinals at Wimbledon, but had to pull out of his match against Nick Kyrgios, due to an abdominal tear he had suffered earlier in the tournament.
It is these recurring injuries which have been Nadal’s greatest demons throughout his career, but it speaks to his mentality and ability that he is the all-time men’s grand slam leader despite being dogged by his body being at less than 100 per cent throughout his prime.
There have been multiple surgeries, and he has a chronic foot issue which even prevented him from being able to walk following the victory in Paris. For this reason, there has always been a question mark over his career, regarding when he might choose to take it easy on himself and hang up his rackets.
Asked about what life holds for him after his retirement one day, Nadal answered in the same vein that has kept his career going to this point. In an interview with Talent On Board, Nadal said – "Surely one day I will be a former elite athlete, but I will always be an athlete because sport is my passion and I will practice it whenever my body allows it.”
Nadal is regularly praised for playing every point as if it might be his last, but is also criticized for it, due to the stress it places on his body. However, it is a style which has him heading into his 20th season as a professional, and still at the highest reaches of the game, few can question its effectiveness.
Nadal, with his uncle and first-ever coach Toni, has opened a training academy for the sport on his home island of Mallorca, off the coast of Spain, called the Rafa Nadal Academy. It hosts hundreds of budding young players over the course of a year on all different kinds of courts. It has been in operation since 2016, and one of its alums was Nadal’s opponents in the 2022 French Open final, Norway’s Casper Ruud.
Speaking about what his role might be at the Academy as he heads into retirement in a few years, Nadal said “I will always be involved with the Academy, which is a project that we started a few years ago and that is gaining more and more strength. I even hope to spend more time on it than I do now as I continue to compete and travel the world.”
Nadal continued, “At the Academy there are all kinds of players and hopefully some future tennis star is already among us. I don't know if I would be the ideal person to train to a player... For now I don't contemplate it, although, as the saying goes, never say I won't drink this water."
While Nadal is still ailing from his abdominal tear, along with numerous other ways in which his body has been beaten up since he began on the ATP Tour as a 16-year-old, he plans to compete at the US Open in August-September. The tournament in New York has been his second-most successful hunting grounds, with 4 titles at Flushing Meadows in the 2010s.
Nadal supporters as well as every other tennis fan in the world will be hoping to see Nadal compete for as long as possible, and if Nadal has shown any indication over the years, it is that he never backs down from a fight while he still has the choice.