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Nadal says Olympics is main goal after early defeat at Roland-Garros

Nadal says Olympics is main goal after early defeat at Roland-Garros
Rafael Nadal of Spain speaks to the media after his defeat in a men’s singles first-round match at the 2024 French Open at Roland Garros in Paris. (Photo: Franco Arland / Getty Images)

Fourteen-time champion Rafael Nadal was knocked out of the French Open with a 6-3 7-6 (5) 6-3 defeat against German fourth seed Alexander Zverev on Monday.

Rafa Nadal likened his struggles with injury in the past 18 months to being in a jungle as the 14-times French Open champion hoped to return to Stade Roland Garros for the Olympic Games after making a premature exit from the Grand Slam on Monday.

Never far from physical issues in his glittering career, the 37-year-old missed almost all of 2023 with a hip problem and his comeback earlier this year was stalled by a muscle tear, before small niggles affected his preparation for the clay court major. 

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Rafa Nadal of Spain reacts during his defeat to Alexander Zverev of Germany in the first round of  Roland-Garros in Paris on 27 May 2024. (Photo: Ian MacNicol / Getty Images)

Nadal crashed to a 6-3 7-6 (5) 6-3 defeat by fourth seed Alexander Zverev on Court Philippe Chatrier in Paris and although there were positives, he said he could not predict how his battered body would respond to the demands of the Games in July and August.

“My body has been a jungle for two years. You don’t know what to expect. I wake up one day and I find a snake biting me. Another day a tiger,” Nadal told a packed press conference following his earliest exit from Roland-Garros.

“I’ve been fighting with all the things that I went through. But the dynamic is positive the last few weeks. I felt ready. I think tomorrow I’ll be ready to play again if I have to. But I will not have to.

“So that’s the thing. Now, I need to prepare myself, I need to clear my ideas and see what’s the new calendar to try to be ready for Olympics. I can’t say anything today, but my main goal now is to play the Olympics.” 

Nadal will be eyeing his third gold medal after triumphing in singles in the 2008 Beijing Games and doubles eight years later in Rio. 

He had expressed doubts about his fitness ahead of what was probably his final French Open.

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Rafa Nadal of Spain during his defeat by Alexander Zverev of Germany in the first round of Roland-Garros in Paris on 27 May 2024. (Photo: Ian MacNicol / Getty Images)

“Today in the match, I felt I was able to move myself much better than in the previous tournaments. But I had a very tough opponent in front of me. He played well,” Nadal said. 

“I had my chances… I mean, I wasn’t that far. That’s my feeling. That’s probably my truth… I played at a good level in all ways, comparing to the way I was playing the weeks before. So, happy for that. 

“Of course, disappointed to lose, but in terms of body feelings, I’m happy that I finished healthy and I had a tough battle out there. And I was ready for a little bit more.”

Unlikely to play Wimbledon

Nadal said it would be unwise to prepare for the grass court season that follows with a potentially difficult transition back to clay for the Olympics.

“It looks difficult, honestly. For me now, I can’t confirm what’s going on, but it looks difficult to make a transition to grass, having the Olympics again on clay,” Nadal said. 

“I need to talk with the team. I need to analyse so many facts. But I don’t think it’s going to be smart after all the things that happened to my body to make a big transition to a completely different surface and then come back to clay. 

“Today I feel that’s not a good idea, but I can’t confirm. But my feeling is even if I’m booked in Wimbledon because I had to, I don’t think it’s a positive idea right now.” 

Return to Paris? 

Fans were left wondering if the 14-times champion would return to the Grand Slam he has ruled for two decades. 

The 22-times major champion, who won the Musketeers’ Cup for the first time in 2005 and last raised the trophy in 2022 before a serious hip injury derailed his career, had previously said this year could be his final one on the tour. 

Having returned to the tournament that he skipped in 2023 and refusing to confirm any farewells ahead of his opener, Nadal showed flashes of top form again on Court Philippe Chatrier, but he ultimately went down fighting. 

“I’m not 100% sure if it’s the last time but I enjoyed it, the crowd were amazing during the whole week of preparation and today,” Nadal said. 

“The feelings today are difficult to describe with words but it’s special to feel the love in the place I love the most. 

“I enjoy playing a lot and travelling with the family. The body is feeling better than two months ago. Maybe in two months I say it’s enough. But it’s something I don’t feel yet.” 

Victory meant Zverev became only the third man to beat Nadal at Roland-Garros, after Novak Djokovic and Robin Soderling, with the German also banishing memories of his retirement due to an ankle injury when the duo last met in the 2022 semifinals. 

“I don’t know what to say … thank you Rafa from all of the tennis world, it’s such a great honour,” Zverev said. 

“I’ve watched Rafa play all my childhood and I was lucky enough to play him twice on this beautiful court.” 

Nadal was broken by in-form Rome champion Zverev in the opening game and surrendered his serve again late on to drop the first set in unfavourable conditions for him with the roof closed due to heavy rain earlier.

Positive start 

Faced with the prospect of only his fourth Roland-Garros defeat in 116 matches, Nadal made a positive start to the next set as he leapt and pumped his fists after holding for 2-2 and broke for the first time with a delicate drop.

The crowd began to sense a comeback as Nadal went ahead 4-2 with some vintage shots on both flanks but the steely Zverev hit back in the 10th game and saved two breakpoints before doubling his advantage by edging a high-octane tiebreak.

Watched by his great rival Novak Djokovic and a host of other current players, Nadal surged to a 2-0 lead in the third set but squandered it as Zverev drew level and dealt another body blow in the seventh game.

The boisterous crowd tried their best to roar Nadal on, but Zverev held his nerve to clinch a famous victory that could well prove to be the springboard he needs to push for an elusive first Grand Slam title. DM

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