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French Open 2024: Nadal eyes Olympics but not Wimbledon after exit, says 'body has been a jungle for 2 years'

Rafael Nadal's legendary French Open career likely reached its conclusion on Monday when the 14-time champion suffered a demoralizing defeat against Alexander Zverev.

French Open 2024: Nadal eyes Olympics but not Wimbledon after exit, says 'body has been a jungle for 2 years' snt
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First Published May 28, 2024, 11:32 AM IST

Rafael Nadal's legendary French Open career likely reached its conclusion on Monday when the 14-time champion suffered a demoralizing defeat against Alexander Zverev. Following the match, Nadal disclosed that his path to the Paris Olympics in July would bypass Wimbledon.

Nadal, who turns 38 on June 3, lost 6-3, 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 in the first round to world number four Zverev, marking only his fourth defeat in 116 matches at Roland Garros since his debut title in 2005.

This first-round exit, his first-ever at Roland Garros, raises further questions about his future in the sport.

“I don’t know if it’s the last time I’ll be here in front of all of you,” he said.

“If it is, then you have been amazing. The feelings I have today are difficult to describe in words. It is the place I love the most," the Spanish ace added.

“It’s hard to say about the future. I am travelling with my family and I am having fun. The body is feeling better than it did two months ago. Maybe in two months I say it’s enough. That is something I don’t feel yet," Nadal stated.

Rafael Nadal may not return for the 2025 French Open, but he still plans to compete in the Olympics at Roland Garros in July.

Nadal, who won Olympic singles gold in Beijing in 2008 and doubles gold at the Rio Games, told reporters, “That’s my main goal now. I need to prepare myself the proper way to try to arrive healthy and well-prepared.”

Although Rafael Nadal won't meet the rankings cut for the Olympics, he would still be eligible for a spot reserved for Grand Slam winners.

Plagued by injuries that have limited him to just four events since January last year, the former world number one is now ranked 275 and was unseeded in Paris.

“My body has been a jungle for two years. You don’t know what to expect. You know, I wake up one day and I found a snake biting me. Another day a tiger,” said Nadal of his recent battles with a hip injury.

In his career, Rafael Nadal has had to skip 11 Grand Slams. This number is set to become 12 next month, as he is likely to skip Wimbledon, where he was the champion in 2008 and 2010.

“It looks difficult to make a transition to grass, having the Olympics again on clay,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s going to be smart after all the things that happened to my body now make a big transition to a completely different surface and then come back immediately to clay. I don’t think it’s a positive idea right now," Nadal concluded.

Alexander Zverev expressed that it had been “a great honour” to play Rafael Nadal 11 times in their careers.

“I’ve watched Rafa play all my childhood, and I was lucky enough to play him two times on this beautiful court. Today is not my moment, it is Rafa’s moment,” said the German star.

In a rematch of the 2022 semi-final, which Nadal won when Zverev withdrew due to ankle ligament damage, the Spaniard had his chances. He was a break of serve up in the second and third sets, only to be reeled back in both times by his in-form 27-year-old opponent.

However, a relentless Zverev broke Nadal's serve six times from 18 opportunities and fired 44 winners to Nadal’s 34.

Chants of “Rafa, Rafa” echoed loudly under the roof of Court Philippe Chatrier, shut tight against the torrential rain wreaking havoc on the schedule.

The cheers subsided to silence when Nadal was broken to love in his opening service game, regretting his inability to convert two break points in the fourth game.

Nadal saved two set points in the ninth game but lost the opener after 50 minutes, burying a loose forehand into the net. It was only the fourth opening set he had lost at Roland Garros.

Nadal broke for the first time in the match to lead 3-2 in the second set but couldn’t consolidate the advantage, handing the break back to three-time semi-finalist Zverev as he served for the set.

A tense tiebreak followed, claimed by the German who stretched to 5/3 after a grueling 19-shot rally.

Nadal dug deep, breaking and holding for 2-0 in the third set, with Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz, and Iga Swiatek watching from the packed stands.

However, Zverev roared back to level at 2-2, putting immense pressure on Nadal. In a grueling 13-minute fifth game, Nadal had to save four break points to stay in contention.

The effort proved too much, and a composed Zverev soon moved ahead 4-3. The match concluded when Nadal fired a forehand wide and long.

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