Tennis: Clay King Rafael Nadal gears up for emotional French Open farewell

Rafael Nadal will bring down the curtain on his 19-year French Open career with the likelihood of adding to his 14 titles greatly diminished before he leaves behind a record and reputation unlikely ever to be matched.

The great Spaniard, a 22-time Grand Slam champion, won his first title at Roland Garros as a teenager in 2005. A week on Monday, he will celebrate his 38th birthday.

A former world number one, who is now at 276 in the world, Nadal has only played 15 matches since January last year as a hip injury and then a muscle tear were added to a depressing litany of physical ailments which have forced him to miss 12 Grand Slam tournaments in his career.

Unseeded this year, his farewell to arms may be brief after he was drawn to face world number four Alexander Zverev in the first round with the match set for Monday.

“I’m going to play the tournament thinking that I can give my all, 100 percent,” explained Nadal after a second-round exit in Rome.

“And if 100 percent is not enough to win a match, I’ll accept that. But I don’t want to step onto court knowing that I have no chance. If there’s a 0.01 percent chance, I want to explore that and give it a go.”

As well as 14 titles in Paris, Nadal can boast a record of 112 wins and just three losses, two of which came against career-long rival Novak Djokovic.

He is also held in remarkably high esteem.

At his first training session on Court Philippe Chatrier at Roland Garros on Monday an estimated 6,000 people turned up to watch, many chanting his name.

Fellow Grand Slam winners Stan Wawrinka and Daniil Medvedev practised with Nadal this week.

Wawrinka said Nadal was as “strong as ever” while Medvedev admitted he was “happy not to be facing” the Spanish star.

Zverev has only beaten Nadal once in six clay-court meetings.

When they met in Paris in 2022, the German was forced to retire from their semi-final after sustaining a serious ankle injury.

“In my mind, I’m going to play peak Rafa Nadal. That’s what I expect him to be. I expect him to be at his absolute best,” said Zverev, who arrives in Paris having won the prestigious Rome Open title.

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