All stories have a beginning, middle, and end. Rafael Nadal has known for some time now that he was edging towards the concluding chapter in what has been the most remarkable of fairytales.
The undisputed ‘King of Clay’ has scaled heights he could never have dreamed of reaching when he first joined up with the ATP Tour and set foot onto the most prominent of courts that Grand Slam tennis has to offer. He has been a record breaker and an idol of millions, but the day will come when a racket has to be put down for the final time.
— ATP Tour (@atptour) November 13, 2022
Said day may be fast approaching, with a man that has pushed himself to the limit – and often beyond – for the best part of two decades now beginning to show the odd sign of wear and tear.
Nobody is ready to write him off just yet, with outright tennis betting odds looking ahead to the next staging of the French Open in May 2023, pricing Nadal at +250 to capture a 15th crown at Roland Garros. The big-hitting Spaniard will head into that tournament as defending champion and will not want to give up a prestigious piece of silverware without a fight.
The Australian Open trophy has already slipped through his usually wrench-like grip, with untimely fitness struggles contributing to a humbling second-round defeat to Mackenzie McDonald in Melbourne.
A typical triumph Down Under in 2022 would have seen Nadal re-write the history books while helping him on his way to Player of the Year honors across another memorable 12 months. However, professional sports can be a cruel business and a year is a long time when competing on the most elite of stages.
Nadal has offered no indication that he is preparing to call it quits and some famous names that know precisely what he continues to put himself through believe that there are more quests for major honors left in him.
John McEnroe has said of retirement talk: “Obviously, your body can only take so much; at some point, it is going to give out. Will it be this year? I don’t know. Next year? How much longer can he do this at this level? And he doesn’t want to be, you know, 10 in the world or 20. As soon as he, I think, feels like he can’t win majors. He’s going to stop.”
— Eurosport (@eurosport) September 15, 2022
While Nadal’s mind is undoubtedly still willing, it remains to be seen whether his body feels the same way. Novak Djokovic continues to prove that longevity in tennis is very much a thing, but Roger Federer has already called it a day, and Andy Murray – fellow performers in the most golden of eras – appears to be relying solely on muscle memory at times as he competes with a bionic hip.
Nadal finds himself on a similar path and it may be that he faces a breakpoint of a different kind in the not-too-distant future, as he begins to put the finishing touches to what will always be a best-selling story in the sporting biography department.
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