For years there’s been the three dynamo giants who’ve dominated men’s tennis – Swiss maestro Roger Federer, Spanish sensation Rafael Nadal and Serbian star Novak Djokovic.
They constantly pushed each other to new heights.
While Federer retired eight months ago with 20 Grand Slam titles, Nadal and Djokovic currently share the record of 22.
For 22 years, Nadal has been playing Tennis at the professional level.
His sublime skills have constantly left crowds in awe.
The Spaniard injured his left hip during his second-round match against Mackenzie McDonald at the Australian Open in January.
In the months that ensued, Nadal withdrew from Indian Wells and Miami and then the claycourt swing from Monte Carlo through to Rome. This coincided with him falling out of the world’s top ten rankings for the first time in almost 18 years. He had been ranked in the top 10 for an incredible 912 consecutive weeks.
But there was always optimism that he would return for his most successful tournament, the French Open, at his favourite venue.
Unfortunately for tennis lovers keen to see him return, the bombshell announcement they dreaded came during a press conference at his tennis camp in his hometown Mallorca, Spain.
After competing at Roland-Garros every year since he first won it in 2005, plagued by the hip injury incurred in Melbourne, the 22-time grand slam champion made the challenging and brutal decision to pull out.
“I’m not going to be able to play in Roland-Garros. I was even working as much as possible for the last four months.
“It has been a very difficult few months because we were not able to find the solution to the problem that I had in Australia, so today I’m still in the position that I am not able to feel myself, ready to compete at the standards that I need to be,” the defending champion said.
Nadal boasts a super impressive career record of 112-3 across 18 appearances at the French Open, a level of unrivalled dominance.
While it would have been an extremely difficult decision, the 36-year-old knows he needs to be at his best to compete with old foe Djokovic and new emerging stars like Casper Ruud, Carlos Alcaraz, Holger Rune and Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Initially he thought he’d only miss 6-8 weeks but his left hip flexor injury turned out to be more troublesome than first thought.
The king of clay will be sorely missed from Roland Garros this year – the event he’s won 14 times. It is his most successful event and it was seen by tennis enthusiasts as his best chance of skipping ahead of Djokovic and securing that elusive 23rd Grand Slam title in the race for the most Grand Slams.
His athleticism, physical power, sublime skills and tennis prowess placed him in the top echelon of players.
Even if he doesn’t add another title to his already incredibly decorated tennis career, his accolades speak for themselves. The man affectionately known as ‘Rafa’ is still a champion.
The Tennis world knew he was in decline but it still hurts to see a champion miss so much tennis due to injuries. Years of constant travel and competitions are taking their toll on the Spaniard, causing a longer recovery.
He says he’s going to rest up now and give himself every chance to be 100 per cent ready for a big 2024.
One of the events he is hoping to be able to compete in is the 2024 Olympics to be held in Paris next year in July.
“I am going to stop – I am not going to train,” he said.
“My ambition is to try to stop to give myself an opportunity to enjoy next year which is probably going to be my last year on the professional tour,” the former world number one added.
Nadal ruled out playing competitive tennis “for the next few months”.
"I don't want to say one thing and then do the other. It's better to hold the options open and see what's the best calendar possible," he said.
Nadal also eluded to a retirement game plan, strongly hinting that 2024 is likely to be the last year of his career.
While he seems to be dangling a carrot to tease of a return in 2024… even then retirement beckons.
Tennis fans around the globe took to social media to express their devastation and disappointment of the news.
Talented ABC sports presenter Catherine Murphy likened it to a romantic break-up. “This feels like a long teary goodbye,” Murphy articulated.
“Roger and Ash retiring on social media felt like being dumped by text. Serena retiring on Vogue felt like she’d already moved on.
“Rafa is leaving us with some hope but ultimately, you know it’s over,” she posted.
Nadal is hoping he’ll be able to make a full recovery and come back for a triumphant farewell party to put a full stop to his illustrious career on court.
His suggestion of potentially not even picking up a racquet for the remainder of this year has led some to question how competitive he can be next year having missed so much tennis.
But the former world number one is not retiring just yet.
Renowned for his resilience, tenacity and never-say-die attitude, Nadal isn't giving up on his illustrious career just yet. The 92 ATP singles titles champion is hoping to return next year bigger and better for one final fighting season before hanging up the racquet.
Even at 37, a roaring Rafa back to full fitness unleashing his powerful serves and whipping forehand will be a scary proposition for opponents.
Australian doubles champion Todd Woodbridge spoke about how Nadal’s competitiveness pushed others to extreme heights.
“Without Rafa maybe you don’t have a Rogerer Federer and maybe you don’t have a Djokovic,” Woodbridge told Channel 9 as he reflected on Nadal’s withdrawal.
In what could well be the final year of his sensational career, the question remains - come next January, will he be strutting his sublime skills at Melbourne Park one last time? And will he be able to triumph in a 15th French Open at Roland-Garros?
Nadal has proven he can make a successful return from injury, having won eight grand slam titles since an injury-riddled 2016, however with age and injuries catching up with the champion, will he be able to do it again?
The former world number one turns 37 in just over a week.
Only Ken Rosewall in the early 1970s has won a Grand Slam older than him.
Can a roaring Rafa defy the odds and unleash once again in 2024? Time will tell, but for a man who made his reputation striving for every point, it might just be the biggest fight of his life.