Would Nadal retiring at the Laver Cup be a fitting farewell? 

by Faizan Chaudhrey
Rafa Nadal

Rafael Nadal has all but confirmed that 2024 will be his last year on the ATP tour (or is it really?). Where will the Spaniard be closing the curtain on his illustrious career? He was recently added to Team Europe for the Laver Cup in September, which takes place in Berlin. This came as a surprise to many, including myself.

Many had speculated that he would end his decorated career at Roland Garros or the Olympics on Philippe Chatrier (with both being held in Paris on clay). However, it looks like the plan is for him to play further into the year after the Laver Cup announcement. 

Uncertainty around Roland Garros Participation 

He recently mentioned in Madrid that he would like his son to remember seeing him play; but understands it will most likely not be possible, it would mean playing into 2025 at least. The King of Clay has talked about his body not holding up the way he would like to in his recent comeback and even cast doubt over his participation at Roland Garros. To quote Nadal directly: 

“I will play Roland Garros if I feel competitive. If I can play, I play. If I can’t play, I can’t. It won’t be the end of the world or the end of my career.”

He also stated that “if I was in Paris today, I wouldn’t go out to play”. I was taken aback at first to hear him say this in Madrid. It seems inconceivable that Nadal would play his last season on tour and miss what has been the most important and iconic tournament in his career.

Since 2005 the words Roland Garros & Nadal have been synonymous; you just cannot think of one thing without the other. The Spaniard has a statue in Paris and has won the clay grand slam a record 14 times; losing only 3 times at the event and raking up 112 wins. That is a 97%-win record, not bad hey? The context around his record at Roland Garros should help us understand why he would not want to play there unless he felt he had a chance to win the title. It is not about protecting his record or win % but protecting his memory of a place where he has had the biggest highs in his career.

He could play this year’s edition with several physical limitations and get beaten by a player he would ordinarily beat; potentially leaving a bitter taste in his mouth as a last memory. Or he could savour a last memory where he was competitive and physically able to be a contender.

Whether that memory will be the 2022 win or a 2024 journey (whatever result that may be) remains to be seen. Even if Nadal feels he can compete there is no guarantee he takes the title and wins a record extending 15th Roland Garros but at least he would know he had a chance. 

Will Nadal follow in Federer’s footsteps? 

Nadal at the Indian Wells ATP

Will Rafael Nadal wave goodbye to the tennis world at the Laver Cup this year like his fellow “Fedal” counterpart and great rival Roger Federer did 2 years ago? Nadal was there to see off Roger as they played doubles together in Federer’s last match of his career. It seemed a fitting farewell for the Swiss Maestro given his heavy involvement in the inception of the Laver Cup.

Would winning a Wimbledon title and riding off into the sunset have been the ideal goodbye? Federer seemed adamant in his retirement speech that the Laver Cup was the best tournament to say goodbye; he got the opportunity to share the court with Nadal (albeit on the same side of the net) and had fellow greats Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray present.   

I am not sure that a Laver Cup goodbye for Nadal has the same effect in all honesty; Nadal did not have heavy involvement in forming and rolling out the Laver Cup as Roger did. Plus let’s all be honest, we all thought Nadal would wave goodbye at Roland Garros; the Spaniard has made no secret that it is the most important tournament to him.

Maybe he will get Federer out of retirement to play doubles at the Laver Cup or could we see a mouthwatering team up of Djokovic and Nadal? The pair do not have the same friendly warm relationship that Nadal and Federer do but there is a deep seeded mutual respect as competitors. It could be a fitting end to one of the best careers and rivalries (the rivals become teammates Laver Cup slogan would hold true here!) the sport has ever seen.

There has been some speculation that maybe playing with Carlos Alcaraz in doubles at the Laver Cup could be the perfect sendoff; the passing of the torch would be the headline there. Personally, I do not think doubles with Alcaraz at the Laver Cup is the most fitting end but then again, I am not Rafael Nadal.  

Whatever his retirement choice is I am sure it will have players and fans alike teary eyed as we say goodbye to one of the greatest ever to hold a tennis racket. 

Let us know your thoughts about this in the comments below.

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