Rafael Nadal announced Thursday that he is pulling out of the French Open because of a lingering hip injury that has sidelined him since January and that he expects 2024 to be the final season of his tennis career.
The owner of a record 14 championships at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament will miss it for the first time. He made his debut there in 2005.
Nadal, who turns 37 next month, delivered the news of his withdrawal — and future plans — during a news conference at his tennis academy in Manacor, Spain. He said he does not want to set a date for his return to the tennis tour but expects it to take months.
“You can´t keep demanding more and more from your body, because there comes a moment when your body raises a white flag,” said Nadal, who sat alone on a stage, wearing jeans and a white polo shirt, as his session with the media was carried live in Spain by the state broadcaster’s 24-hour sports network. “Even though your head wants to keep going, your body says this is as far it goes.”
He did not offer a date for his return to the tennis tour, but said it is likely to take months.
“You never know how things will turn out,” said Nadal, who answered questions in English, Spanish and the local Mallorcan dialect, “but my intention is that next year will be my last year.”
One thing he made clear: He does not want to bow out like this, holding a microphone in his left hand instead of a racket. Nadal has been the ultimate competitor, playing every point as if it might be his last, as if the outcome might depend on each and every swing.
“I don’t deserve,” Nadal said, “to end my career like this, in a press conference.”
Nadal’s 14 titles at the French Open are the most by any male or female player at any single major in tennis history, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Play begins at Roland Garros in Paris on May 28. Nadal has a career record of 112-3 across 18 appearances at the French Open, a level of dominance unmatched by any man or woman at any Grand Slam event in the long annals of a sport that dates to the 1800s. When Nadal won the trophy last year at age 36 while dealing with chronic foot pain, he became the oldest champion in tournament history.
He said he is not sure that taking more time off now will give him a real chance of coming back next season in competitive form, but he explained that he knows he can’t keep trying to force his body back into match condition now.
“I am going to stop, I am not going to train. I am not ready to train,” Nadal said, alternating answers in Spanish and English. “These have been many months with many moments of frustration, and I can handle frustration, but there comes a time when you have to stop.”
Nadal’s birthday is June 3, when ordinarily he might have been playing his third-round match in Court Philippe Chatrier. Instead, he will be out of action, just as he has been for most of this season.
He hasn’t competed anywhere since he lost to Mackenzie McDonald in the second round of the Australian Open on Jan. 18, when his movement clearly was restricted by a bothersome left hip flexor. That was Nadal’s earliest Grand Slam exit since 2016.
An MRI the next day revealed the extent of the injury, and his manager said at the time that the Spanish player was expected to need up to two months to fully recover. He initially aimed to return at the Monte Carlo Masters in March on his beloved red clay, but he wasn’t able to play there, then subsequently sat out tournament after tournament, decreasing the likelihood that he would be fully fit in time for the French Open.
Nadal is just 1-3 this season. He has dropped seven of his past nine matches overall, dating to a fourth-round loss to Frances Tiafoe in the US Open’s fourth round last September.
It is one thing for Nadal to lose more frequently, and in earlier rounds, than he usually has over the course of his illustrious career — one in which his 22 major titles are tied with rival Novak Djokovic for the most by a man, and includes 92 trophies in all, along with more than 1,000 tour-level match wins.
It is another thing entirely for Nadal to be missing from Roland Garros, where he has appeared 18 times, every year since he won it as a teen in 2005. He also was the champion in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2022.
Nadal dropped out of the field before the third round in 2016 because of an injured wrist, and he was eliminated by another player three times: Those losses came against Robin Soderling in the fourth round in 2009, against Djokovic in the quarterfinals in 2015, then again against Djokovic in the semifinals in 2021.
This year, Nadal will be absent right from the start from his favorite event — and one in which he generally is regarded as the favorite to win, no matter what.
“Tournaments stay forever; players play and leave. So, Roland Garros will always be Roland Garros, with or without me, without a doubt. The tournament is going to keep being the best event in the world of clay, and there will be a new Roland Garros champion — and it is not going to be me,” Nadal said. “And that is life.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.