As soon as an unscheduled press conference was called at Roland Garros on a non-playing day for the Spanish star, it was clear that some major announcement was afoot. When he arrived to a packed press room, a bright blue brace on his left wrist told the story.
It is a very tough moment because you expect and you wait for these two weeks for the whole year
Nadal, a professional to his fingertips, sat patiently as the room filled, and then made his own statement.
“Well, just, hello. I’m here to announce that I have to retire from the tournament because I have a problem in my wrist that I have had a couple of weeks. I arrived here with a little bit of pain but something that I thought I was able to manage.
“[But] every day was a little bit worse. We tried to do all the treatments possible. Every single day we spent a lot of hours here working so hard to try to play. Yesterday I played with an anaesthetic injection in the wrist… I could play, but the thing is yesterday night I started to feel more and more pain, and today in the morning I felt that I could not move much the wrist. So I came here, I did MRI, and I did echography.
“Well, the results are not positive. It’s not broken, but if I keep playing, [it’s] gonna be broken in the next couple of days.”
Only yesterday, Nadal passed another milestone in Paris, his 200th Grand Slam match-win. He was targeting a record 10th title at the tournament, an achievement that no other player has managed at any Grand Slam, and had he won, he would also claim a record 50th clay title, overtaking Guillermo Vilas’ Open Era record of 49.
Nadal, who turns 30 on what is scheduled to be semi-final day at the tournament, was hotly tipped to face the top seed Novak Djokovic for the 50th time on that very day. Last year, he suffered only his second loss in 11 appearances here to Djokovic in the quarter-finals. That ended a 39-match winning streak, part of a lifetime 72-2 record at Roland Garros.
Little wonder then that a dejected Nadal talked of his withdrawal with such regret.
“It’s obvious that if it’s not Roland Garros I would probably not take risks on playing the first two days, but is the most important event of the year for me, so we tried our best. We took risks yesterday.
“Taking the decision to withdraw, to retire from a competition such as this one, which is the most important in my career, you can imagine how tough it was. So today I can tell you that I will not play before I have recovered entirely.
“But, you know, when I am coming to Roland Garros, I am coming thinking about winning the tournament. To win the tournament I need five more matches, and the doctor says that is 100 per cent impossible.
“So if I continue playing, then will be impossible to finish the tournament. Is no chance that I can even practise more today. That’s it. I have to take that very bad decision for me, but just that’s part of the life, part of my career, too.”
He was quick to reject any idea that this was a career-ending problem, however: “We’re gonna work hard to be ready for Wimbledon. For the moment I need a couple of weeks with immobilization. Then we’re gonna do the treatment, and we hope the treatment works well. We expect to recover quickly.”
Nadal has had his share of injury problems, and as recently as Monte-Carlo and Madrid. He admitted: “I felt something against Sousa in Madrid. Next day against Andy I played with mesotherapy to have less pain. Then I travelled to Barcelona to do all the tests, to check if I am able to play in Rome or not… and the doctor told me that there is nothing really bad. So I played only with anti-inflammatories… And as I say before, when I arrived here, every day is worse. I cannot play with my forehand.”
He is not, however, contemplating surgery: “It’s not that serious. Everyone seems to think that it will take a couple of weeks, perhaps a month for things to improve, and the issue will be resolved. There is a solution. It’s not like when I had issues with my knee, because there we really couldn’t see the end of the tunnel. Here there is a diagnosis; there is a treatment; there is a time frame for immobilization. Of course medicine is not mathematics, you can’t merely rely on the dates that your treatment is supposed to end.”
It is not just a blow for Nadal and his campaign for that 10th French Open title, but also for the tournament. Just the day before the draw, the 2009 champion and world No3 Roger Federer was forced to withdraw with a back injury, ending his record streak of 65 Grand Slam appearances.
However with those two big names out of the tournament, and both of them long-standing rivals of Djokvoic, it does open the door just a crack further for the top seed to claim the one Grand Slam missing from his resume.
The other main contenders, No2 seed Andy Murray and defending champion and No3 seed Stan Wawrinka, are scheduled to contest the semi-finals in the bottom half of the draw.
For now, the French Open and the popular Spaniard’s millions of admirers will hope he has another stab at the record next year. He certainly believes he will.
“Now is a tough moment, but is not the end. I feel myself with the right motivation and the right energy to be back in Roland Garros the next couple of years, and I really hope to keep having my chances in the future.
“It is a tournament that I love so much. I feel the love of the people not only in the crowd, I feel that the crowd is supporting me a lot, but at the same time I have a close relationship with a lot of people who work here.
“So, for me, is a very tough moment because you expect and you wait for these two weeks for the whole year, and to retire today is very bad news for me.”
He concluded, with as much positivity as he could summon: “Today is one of the toughest press conferences in my career… The only thing that I can say is bad luck and that’s part of our life. At the same time, for nine times in my career I have been able to be healthy here and to win this tournament.”
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