Juan Mónaco and his friend Rafael Nadal: “If he comes back and wins he won’t say goodbye to tennis”

Juan Mónaco
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Rafael Nadal underwent surgery for a psoas iliacus injury with the intention of getting back to his best form, playing in 2024 and saying goodbye to professional tennis. But the story may be different, believes one of his great friends on the tour, the now retired Juan Mónaco: if Nadal returns to play, it is to win. And if he wins, forget about him retiring in 2024.

“The limit is going to be set by him. I know him a lot, and I think that if he prepares to come back, he prepares to win, he doesn’t prepare to make the quarter-finals. If he comes back and wins he won’t say goodbye to tennis,” said the Argentine Monaco, world number ten in July 2012, during an interview with CLAY.

Juan Monaco, 39, now lives in Miami and runs a tennis representation agency, Summa Sports, but is still very much involved in the day-to-day running of tennis. The friendship that unites him with Nadal is strong, and that enables the Argentine to explain things that until now had not been heard about the steps that the Spaniard has taken and will take. Also to explain why, despite his titles, Novak Djokovic is a lesser entity to Nadal and Roger Federer.

Interview with Juan Mónaco

– Will Nadal get back to tennis?
– It is my wish as a friend. For the good of tennis and for the good of him, who is putting all the effort to return. I want him to come back, yes, but I also have another wish as a friend, that Rafa can live in peace, without so much pressure to come back with so much pain. He made a big effort to try to come back after Australia, and every time he strained his leg it bothered him a lot. Until he had to take the decision to have surgery. And it is a complicated operation, because he is doing it to be able to walk calmly tomorrow. Whether he can play tennis again will depend on how much effort he wants to put in.

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– How much pain is he in?
– I know how much pain he is in, I know that in the last five years he has been living with a lot of pain.

– How is it possible that he has competed and won with so much pain, how do you explain what he did at Roland Garros 2022?
– I have been saying for five years that he will play one more year and then retire. And I know him a lot, and actually every time I think about it, yes, I think he’s going to retire. But he has a mental strength and a desire to compete that only he feeds, because all his inner circle says ‘well, I think this is the last year, this is the last year’. But no, he has this power of conviction that he can do anything, and he’s not going to stop. And I think that not having been able to play this last Roland Garros and having had surgery opens up a mental opportunity for him to play again. Because if he had competed badly and lost, he would never have played again.

– So… this operation, these steps he took are for…?
– To play Roland Garros again.

– Nadal said he will say goodbye in 2024, but if he does it is to compete and win, or not?
– I think if he decides to return to train hard to return to the tour is to win. If he doesn’t, he won’t come back.

– And if he wins, does he say goodbye?
– I don’t think so!

– So he’s still playing in 2025…
– I don’t think so, I honestly don’t think (he’ll say goodbye). He’s going to set the limit for himself. I know him a lot, and I think that if he prepares to come back, he prepares to win, he doesn’t prepare to make the quarter-finals. He has a very high standard. I think he has not played Roland Garros because he has seen in training that he was not ready to win Roland Garros, although he could have played it.

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Rafael Nadal and Juan Mónaco during the 2011 Davis Cup Final.

– The Grand Slam title number 23 of Djokovic is an extra motivation for Nadal?
– I don’t think so, no. I think he stopped fighting for that a while ago. He’s very happy with what he has. Obviously if Djokovic keeps winning trophies and Grand Slams he can be the greatest in history, but there is something undeniable which is the way Rafa and Roger changed tennis. They will always have a much bigger place reserved in the heart of the tennis fan than Djokovic. No disrespect to Djokovic, who may be the greatest in titles, but the love for Rafa and Roger is much stronger than the love that Djokovic generated.

– Recently, Djokovic said that he wanted to be friends with Federer and Nadal and could not be, is there a distance between them that is explained in something that is not tennis?
– It has no, undoubtedly, a tennis explanation, because Djokovic is going to win more than them. But there is a distance in what Rafa and Roger generate, in the love of the fan.

– I go back to Nadal and the year 2024. If he comes back well, and wins, is he going to think why should he retire?
– Sure! If he prepares to come back, he comes back to win, not to see what happens.

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