The tennis world nervously awaits Rafael Nadal’s decision on Thursday on whether to defend his French Open title, as fears mount that the end is drawing near for the king of clay.
The record 14-time Roland Garros champion was desperately hoping to appear in Paris, but the indications are his hip injury will prevent him from defending his crown.
Nadal will hold a news conference at 4pm (1400 GMT) at his Rafa Nadal Academy in Manacor, Mallorca, where he has been working to recover for the French Open, which he has not missed since his triumphant 2005 debut.
There was little optimism to be found, as he scratched warm-up events from his calendar like dominoes tumbling, after the problem he sustained in January at the Australian Open.
First, he skipped hard-court Masters events in the US, Indian Wells and Miami, but Nadal was still not ready for the clay season, missing Monte Carlo, Barcelona and then the Madrid Open.
The Italian Open presented a last chance for Nadal to prove his fitness ahead of Roland Garros, but the 36-year-old was forced to pull out, even though he said his new treatment programme was making some progress.
“He will miss the most important tournament of his career,” wrote Spanish sports website Relevo on Wednesday, with other Spanish outlets following suit.
Despite the reports, Nadal’s spokesman said his decision and the reasons for it would only be known once the player spoke on Thursday.
Tennis fans hoped Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who are tied for most Grand Slam titles each, would be able to battle for a record-extending 23rd at Roland Garros, but the odds of that look slim.
Instead, there are worries that injuries are hastening the end of Nadal’s career.
Nadal has battled his way through knee, wrist and foot problems through his career, although over the past year his physical problems have accelerated.
After winning the French Open in 2022, albeit while receiving daily pain-killing injections in his foot, Nadal’s year took a turn for the worse.
He withdrew from Wimbledon ahead of the semi-finals because of an abdominal strain.
The Spaniard never looked completely comfortable at the US Open and was beaten by Frances Tiafoe in the fourth round.
January’s shock defeat in Melbourne at the hands of Mackenzie McDonald left Nadal facing a six to eight week stretch to lick his wounds and heal his hip injury, but the problem has dragged on and on.
Now his beloved Roland Garros may be the next domino to fall, and if it does, there may not be many left behind it.