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Rafael Nadal’s career has undergone constant injury and retirement speculation; and time and time again, the 22-time major champion has refused to bow out.

Following Nadal’s longest stint on the sidelines since the beginning of his professional career in 2001 – missing the entirety of 2023 post the Australian Open – the Spaniard is back defying expectations at 37 years of age.

After a short-lived return in Brisbane – and a three-hour battle with Jordan Thompson – saw Nadal withdraw from the 2024 Australian Open, questions again surrounded the future of the Majorcan.

Further withdrawals from Indian Wells and Monte Carlo, publicising that “[his] body simply won’t allow [him]” to compete, created more disappointment among fans and conjecture from the media; but not for the first time. 

As far back as 2010, there were doubts as to whether Nadal could play on, with Tom Oldfield’s biography suggesting that injuries could derail his career in his twenties.

So much of where Rafa goes from here is unclear. While his exploits have already earned him a place in the tennis history books alongside the true greats, Nadal’s spell at the top may have been shorter than anyone could have imagined

And that is a sad possibility for the game of tennis and the Spaniard’s army of supporters.”

And yet, fourteen years on, Nadal is not only on court but back into the fourth round of a Masters 1000.

Over the course of 2024, the fourteen-time Roland Garros champion has been open and modest about his expectations for the season, tempering suggestions that he’s still a threat at major events.

And while dialing back projections may help fans to appreciate every moment that the Spaniard provides, his level of tennis in Madrid will deservedly scale them back up.

After a 6-1, 6-0 first-round triumph over Darwin Blanch – a 16-year-old who was born three months after Nadal won his third Roland Garros title – the ‘King of clay’ set up a clash with Alex de Minaur for the second consecutive week.

Coming off a straight sets loss to the Aussie in Barcelona, Nadal again tempered expectations, stating in the lead-up that he “would be totally surprised if [he] beat De Minaur”.

But that’s exactly what he did, playing his best tennis in over a year to overcome the in-form ‘Demon’ and record his biggest win since 2022. 

And if keeping expectations low was the aim, backing up the De Minaur win with a three-hour victory over Argentine Pedro Cachin was a tough result for the Nadal camp.

Bringing the boisterous locals to their feet on several occasions, the Spaniard displayed the emotions of a man who is not taking a single moment for granted during his 24th season on the pro tour. 

Nadal will now face Czech Jiri Lehecka in the last sixteen, bidding to reach the Madrid quarterfinals for the fifteenth time in seventeen appearances. 

A victory in that match would also bring up Nadal’s 200th triumph at Masters 1000 events on clay, drawing a mere sixty-seven wins clear of Novak Djokovic who holds the second-most.

It is one of many unbelievable statistics which naturally provides hope that Nadal could enjoy title success on the Parisian clay, with Roland Garros set to host its annual Grand Slam and the Olympic Games tennis event in the coming months. 

We are undeniably approaching the end of an iconic sporting career, but while the show goes on, fans can only appreciate everything that comes with the Nadal finale.

And that doesn’t mean we can’t hope for a Grand Slam ending at the same time.


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