MELBOURNE, Australia – Already injured just a week after his return, Rafael Nadal will not play in the Australian Open and his ability to return to the highest level, at 37 years old, is in doubt, even if it is intended to be reassuring.
The Spaniard withdrew on Sunday from the first Grand Slam of the season, which begins in a week in Melbourne, due to a “micro muscle tear” suffered two days earlier in Brisbane during his back-to-school tournament, his first in almost a decade. . year.
“It saddens me not to be able to play in front of an incredible crowd in Melbourne,” admitted of course “Rafa”, winner in Australia of two of his 22 Grand Slam titles, in 2009 and 2022. But immediately adding that this setback “is not a very bad news” and he and his team remain “very positive about the progress of the season.”
We knew that his true objective was not to shine in Melbourne but to “be at (his) best level in three months”, that is, during the season on clay, his favorite surface. But, above all, his latest failure is not a priori a relapse of the serious hip injury that kept him away from the circuit for 347 days in 2023.
“Once I arrived in Melbourne they were able to do an MRI and I have a micro muscle tear, but not in the area where I had already had an injury and that is good news,” he said – he explained on his social networks. networks.
Hello everyone, during my last game in Brisbane I had a small problem with a muscle that, as you know, had me worried. Once I got to Melbourne I had the opportunity to have an MRI and I have a micro tear in a muscle, not in the same part where I had the injury and that is good news.
— Rafa Nadal (@RafaelNadal)
January 7, 2024
I’m not ready for five sets.
“At the moment I am not prepared to play five-set matches at the highest level of demand. I will return to Spain to see my doctor, receive treatment and rest,” he said.
It would, therefore, be just one of the innumerable physical problems, elbows, back, knees, abdominals, etc., that have disrupted his career from the beginning. Before he was twenty he even wondered if he could have a career because of a congenital foot pain that never left him.
On Friday in Brisbane, the Mallorcan was defeated in the third round by the Australian Jordan Thomson (55th in the world) in a three-set match that lasted almost three and a half hours and ended with some discomfort in his left thigh.
Nothing to do, however, with his ordeal a year ago, when he extended his punishment until the end of a second round of the Australian Open, lost to the American McKenzie McDonald. It was his last game before two operations, great moments of doubt when he was going to think about withdrawing, then a long period of work on his island of Mallorca before the announcement, at the beginning of December, of the return from him.
A hit for nothing
After falling to 672nd place in the ATP, Nadal then said that he had set no other goal than “to be competitive,” admitting to having “no idea” what awaited him.
These rivals know well that such a champion “does not return just to play”, as Novak Djokovic immediately pointed out, but to try to win his 15th Roland-Garros in June, if not to catch up with the Serbian who joined him in his absence and then surpassed him. in number of Grand Slam victories (24).
Your mini-tour to the Antipodes will not have told you anything about the validity of your ambitions. He won his first singles against a big name, Dominic Thiem, but the Austrian is just a shadow of the player he was when he twice reached the Roland-Garros final, against Nadal, of course. He then swept a lowly Australian, Jason Kubler (102nd in the world), before stopping in the quarterfinals.
Too little to be sure, but enough to not give up.