Nadal aims to Doha, will be in Las Vegas and dreams of Paris: “His desire to compete are brutal”

Rafael Nadal has not yet touched a racquet since Jordan Thompson thwarted his return to tennis on January 5th in Brisbane. Nevertheless, he dreams. He does not give up and continues to think big.

Those in Brisbane were his first steps after almost a year without competing. The “small muscle injury”, as he described it at the time, is healing and nothing strange has crossed the Spaniard’s path. The goal? To return to the tour at the ATP 250 in Doha, which starts on 19 February.

Will he make it? “His desire to compete is brutal,” a person very familiar with the situation and what is going on around the 14-time Roland Garros champion told CLAY. “If everything goes well, he will play again in Doha.”

For everything to go well with Nadal, there are still important steps to be taken. He should be back on court, for example, which should happen before the end of the Australian Open.

“Hopefully he’ll be back very soon,” added the source, who takes a panoramic look at what Nadal did and could do on his way to turning 38.

Did it make sense to play in Australia? With Monday’s paper, perhaps not, but Nadal’s decision to return on a tour that has brought him far more bitterness than success in his career is explained, above all, by his competitive yearnings: that the man still vying to be the most successful tennis player of all time was a year away from the tour is part of the fire that lights his spirit today.

He and his entourage are convinced that the “minor muscle injury” is indeed a minor injury, and that his body is not necessarily telling him enough is enough.

And a thought comes to the fore: if he comes back and wins, if he comes back and achieves great success, Nadal is unlikely to hang up his racket in 2024. One of his best friends, former Argentinian tennis player Juan Monaco, told CLAY this, which is also what his uncle Toni believes, and it is now an increasingly widespread feeling in the great little world of Nadal.

“Have you seen his strokes, the way he came back? It’s clear that he’s a player who doesn’t need much practice before the big tournaments: his strokes are there, intact”.

Nadal aims to Doha

Doha would be the return to competitive tennis, but also the prelude to the big event organised by Netflix, the exhibition with Carlos Alcaraz in Las Vegas. Then, one of the tournaments that Nadal most enjoys, Indian Wells, and finally the European season.

Barcelona and Rome are two sure stops, but Paris is the dream, the goal, the obsession: a fifteenth title there would take the whole story to an unexpected and extraordinary level. The answer, once again, is not in his tennis or mind, but in Nadal’s body.

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Clay’s managing editor has covered more than 60 Grand Slam tournaments since 1996. Author of “Sin Red”, a journey around the world following Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal: The Lives and Careers of Two Tennis Legends