After withdrawing from the French Open, what’s next for Rafael Nadal? – USA TODAY

5 months ago Comments Off on After withdrawing from the French Open, what’s next for Rafael Nadal? – USA TODAY



Andrew Krasny breaks down Friday’s third-round action at Roland Garros.
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PARIS – As journalists filed in, one by one, to the main press conference room inside the belly of Court Philippe Chatrier, Rafael Nadal peered out the window quietly.

He had yet to announce that he was withdrawing from the French Open because of a left wrist injury, not yet saying that he felt – if he kept playing here in Paris – that the wrist might break. Nor had he shared yet that this was one of the hardest days of his life, and that he hoped very much to be back and healthy for Wimbledon, which begins a month from Friday.

Nadal sat simply, staring into the distance, out the windows onto the grounds of Roland Garros and into the future. A future that, for a long while now, has been cloudy, and grew even more overcast on this day in Paris.

What comes next for Rafael Nadal?

“Today I can tell you that I will not play before I have recovered entirely,” Nadal explained in broken English, his eyes welled with tears. “Every time I hit the ball I can’t play. I can’t have pain every time I use a forehand.”

It’s the forehand – that lefty forehand – which has helped make Nadal one of the greatest tennis players of all time. For the first time in 12 French Open appearances he’s pulled out mid-event, having won here a record nine times and 72 matches, the most of any player ever.

While the question marks loomed over him like low-hanging clouds in 2015, Nadal had made progress this year, winning two titles on clay and registering a 29-8 record, beating rivals like Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori, and gaining steam on world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who has become far and away the best men’s tennis player in the world.

Yet the biggest question mark now is the severity of this injury. A right wrist injury set him out of the U.S. Open in 2014, but this is on his left wrist, and such injuries – though we don’t know details yet – can be complicated.

“Anything with your wrist can be dangerous,” said Paul Annacone, a coach and Tennis Channel contributor. “When you look at how violently Rafa swings at the ball, one can only imagine what that does to his wrists.”

Nadal made clear to assure that he would be back in Paris, setting out to win a record 10th Coupe des Mousquetaires: “I’m going to keep going hard to recover as quick as possible and try to be back the next couple of years here having some more opportunities.”

But the immediate question is how Nadal will fair over the next few weeks. Wimbledon starts June 27, the Olympics on Aug. 6 and the U.S. Open on Aug. 29. They are all major focal points for Nadal, but he won’t be able to play in them if he is not healthy.

It’s what Roger Federer – tennis’ other active demigod – is dealing with now: A battle against the body. And many feel as though Rafa’s could begin to break down because of the physical, grinding nature of his tennis.

“I think as you get older you get more vulnerable,” said Annacone. “Every athlete is different. Rafa is an athlete that works hard, but he’s also incredibly hard on his body. He’s done it for many years. Roger is a few years older, but he’s had some injuries, too. It takes it toll on the body. People don’t talk about the wear and tear on your body from tennis: It’s a rough sport! It’s individual … different surfaces and you are flying all over the world to play. When you add all of those things together in your late 20s and early 30s, you’re going to start to feel it. Rafa is starting to feel it.”

John Isner, the lone American man remaining in the draw, agreed with Annacone. He missed lead-up events in Madrid and Rome due to an elbow injury, something he said he had never dealt with before.

“As you get older, you don’t recover quicker,” said Isner, who plays Murray in the fourth round. “I’m learning now that at 31 it’s very hard to recover … Rest is paramount for me. When I’m at a tournament or at home, I need to rest as much as I can and then obviously work hard and work smart.”

“I think for Rafa’s case, he plays such a physical game, as well,” Isner added. “But the wrist thing, that’s a little weird. I don’t know if that’s so much the physicality of the tour or just something weird went wrong. It’s unfortunate for tennis [he’s out].”

Nadal, for one, was outright frustrated: He felt he was back and ready to face Djokovic, who had beaten him here for the first time last season, in the semifinals a week from Friday. Now that won’t happen.

“I would have preferred if this had been last year,” Nadal said frankly. “We had done our homework. I was moving forward. I played at very high level for several weeks. Unfortunately, this has stopped me now, but I certainly hope it will just be a brief incident and that I can fully recover.”

“It’s pretty disheartening,” Annacone said. “He’s had a great resurgence this last few months and played some great tennis. For the body to start to break down, that has to be crushing. He has to go back and take care of himself.”

On Friday Nadal exited a tournament the way he always does: He walked over to the stenography team – which does each of his press conferences here – and kissed them farewell.

“Bye,” he said simply in English. And then he walked out of the stadium in the direction where he had been peering earlier, taking a tournament car. Where, exactly, Nadal’s career goes from here remains unclear, however.

After withdrawing from the French Open, what’s next for Rafael Nadal? – USA TODAY

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