Door remains open for improving Nadal 

No plans for retirement just yet, as Nadal looks ahead to Zverev challenge

Rafael Nadal, practice, Roland-Garros 2024©Clement Mahoudeau / FFT
 - Chris Oddo

Drawing fourth-seeded Alexander Zverev, last week’s Rome champion, as a first-round opponent has not dampened Rafael Nadal’s enthusiasm for making his 19th appearance on the Parisian clay. 

Far from it. The 14-time champion sees this year’s tournament as a chance to test his improving form against one of the best players in the men’s game. 

“When you are not seeded, anything can happen,” said Nadal, who is currently ranked 276. “That's part of the business when you are not seeded.” 

Nadal owns a 5-1 record against Zverev on clay, and 7-3 overall, but the two players are in very different stages of their careers. The surging German has hit his stride two years after suffering a debilitating ankle injury against Nadal in Paris in 2022. Nadal, meanwhile, is fresh off a performance in Rome that he labelled disastrous.

“Of course on paper it is not the best draw,” Nadal opined. “I play against one of the toughest opponents possible, and at the same time, he came here winning the last event and it's a Masters 1000. That's the draw. Just try to be ready for it.

Rafael Nadal, practice, Roland-Garros 2024©️Loic Wacziak / FFT

“You know, it's a super-tough first round. Maybe I go [out and] repeat the disaster of Rome. It's a possibility, of course. I don't want to hide that.” 

Self deprecations aside, Nadal appears a lot more confident in his form than he was a few weeks ago, and there was a detectable air of hope in his eyes as he spoke to a jam-packed crowd of reporters in the main interview room in Paris on Saturday. 

“It's a different tournament, a different feeling completely,” he said. “But I progressed. In the practices, without a doubt I improved, especially in terms of movements. So I don't feel the limitations that I felt in Rome in terms of running, both sides, so that's a lot for me.”

Nadal, who owns a 112-3 lifetime record in Paris, has only lost to two players at the tournament he has dominated like no other – Novak Djokovic and Robin Soderling.

But the 14-time champion has never been unseeded, or faced an opponent with a ranking higher than 39 in his first round, in Paris. He admits that he isn’t exactly sure how he’ll manage the challenge. 

“In my mind is [to] do something different and play much better and give myself a chance to play competitively,” Nadal said of his impending clash with Zverev on Monday, adding: “I didn't play five-set matches since a super long time ago. I didn't play [against] this level of opponent, being competitive since a super-long time ago. 

“So all these questions that I understand that you are making to me I am asking to myself, too. But the answer gonna be on Monday, no? That's it. The rest of the things are just talking and talking, and at the end it doesn't matter, no?"

Rafa’s last dance? 

The elephant in the room will remain in the room, and that is the wish of Nadal. 

Asked whether or not this Roland-Garros would be his last, Nadal apologised and told reporters that he simply does not know. 

“It's a big, big chance that it’s going to be my last Roland-Garros, but if I have to tell you it's 100 percent my last Roland Garros, sorry, but I will not, because I cannot predict what's going on – I hope you understand,” he said. 

“In some way I don't want to close 100 percent the door… First thing, I am enjoying playing tennis. Second thing, I am traveling with the family. They are enjoying. I am enjoying sharing all this process with them.” 

Nadal, competitive guru that he is, wants time to explore how his body reacts to upcoming competitions. If he can remain injury-free, and continue to improve his tennis, he may elect to prolong his career. 

The time for wrapping up the most brilliant Roland-Garros resume of all-time is... not yet. 

“I hope to be clear,” he said with a smile. “I don't want to create a big confusion, but I'm enjoying what I am doing. Sorry, but I am feeling competitive in the practices.

“Probably not yet in the professional matches. But yeah, in the practices, I can tell you, I am able to play almost against anyone. And I don't feel much worse than the others, so that gives me some hope.”