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Still playing in 2025: Rafael Nadal’s increasingly likely option

Rafael Nadal saluda al público que lo ovaciona en Roma
Rafael Nadal saluda al público que lo ovaciona en Roma / CAPTURA
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At first glance, only a specialist in hieroglyphics, Sanskrit, Aramaic and, why not, the Higgs Boson, would be able to understand the Rafael Nadal of these weeks, capable of deciphering the meaning of what he says. That constant “no, but yes; yes, but no”.

But if one sharpens one’s eyes a little and analyses what has happened in the last twelve months, things become much simpler: Nadal is getting closer to making the decision to continue playing in 2025 than to say goodbye in 2024.

Why? Because what he announced to the world on 18 May 2023 in Manacor is not coming true. He had proposed a farewell on his terms, in his own way. And that is exactly what is not happening.

Leave as the world number 200-something he will be in a week’s time? Retire after a second-round exit in Barcelona and round of 16 finishes in Madrid and 64 in Rome? End an unparalleled history in the sport after what is shaping up to be a bitter Roland Garros for him?

No, forget about it. Nadal said in May 2023, exactly one year ago, that he would prepare thoroughly for the rest of that year to face a final season, 2024, in conditions. And the truth is that 2024 is not being a normal season for him, he is not being able to play all the tournaments or all the matches he set out to play.

Four tournaments, 11 matches, seven wins, four losses.

That’s not what he said he was going to do. This is not a farewell tour. It’s a tour, for the moment and given what he set out to do, failed.

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And that is why his striking decision not to allow the Italian Open organisers to give him a farewell on centre court, even though the crowd gave him a beautiful and spontaneous mass salute, makes sense.

He explained: “I never said this was going to be my last tournament here. In Madrid yes, because that was the case, but here I’m not one hundred per cent sure, probably 98 per cent, but I’m not going to say one hundred per cent when it’s not. Here the feeling is different, the story is different, the moment is different. I don’t know. Honestly, I didn’t expect any ceremony.”

The same goes for Barcelona. Nadal thinks of a 2025 in which he plays Barcelona and Rome, two tournaments he loves, and not Madrid, a tournament he always disliked, largely because of the conditions of play from the height of the Spanish capital, but also because of his lack of “feeling” with those responsible for the event for many years.

Nadal is today out of control. In a good sense: whatever his closest team tells him is listened to by the former world number one, but the decisions are all his, to a level never seen before. Master of his career, master of one of the most amazing sporting stories of all time, Nadal resists the way things are. He accepts them, of course, but why not set a “trap” for reality by taking the game, the challenge, to a new terrain, which is the 2025 season?

This is what he has been saying, in fact, from the very moment he announced he was retiring in 2024: what if things go well, what if I don’t get injured? Why not continue?

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Things aren’t going well, but they’re not going so bad either: it’s just that he’s needing a lot more time than he imagined to get his game and his confidence back. Without getting injured. That’s why the doubt of whether he will play Roland Garros.

“There are too many doubts, too many questions in every sense, about different questions of the game…. There is the option of saying: ‘OK, I’m not ready, I’m not playing well enough’, and then it would be time to make the decision not to play Roland Garros, or another one that is to accept how I am today, and work in the right way to try to be otherwise in two weeks. The decision today is not clear, but if I have to say what my feeling is right now, I’m going to say it’s to be at Roland Garros and do my best.

“Physically I have some problems, but probably not yet enough to not play the most important event of my career. Let’s see what happens, how I feel mentally tomorrow, the day after and in a week’s time. If I feel ready, I’m going to try to be there and fight for the things I’ve been fighting for the last 15 years, even if it seems impossible now.”

Wouldn’t it make sense to give his body and his tennis more matches and play in Geneva or Lyon, before Paris?

No, his entourage told CLAY. “One hundred per cent for sure no.”

It seems more and more obvious: Nadal’s decisions and reflections are not those of someone who is about to retire.

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