Rafael Nadal says he is not scared of retirement
Rafael Nadal says he is not scared of retirement.
But the truth of the matter is that even at 37 years of age he simply finds tennis and competition too much fun.
It is 348 days since Nadal began his latest bout of rehabilitation after hobbling away from the Australian Open’s Rod Laver Arena with a hip injury which would ultimately require surgery.
The 22-time Grand Slam champion rarely makes predictions, but there is a bounce in his step as he returns to the tour here in Brisbane.
The early months of the season could yet take their toll, but Nadal hopes to be in a position to compete for clay-court titles come the European spring.
“Even if I know that everything is almost impossible after all the things that I went through, my age and all the things my body has – if inside myself I don’t have the feeling and the motivation or the hope that I can keep fighting for something that really motivates me, probably I will not prepare the season the way that I am,” the Spaniard told BBC Sport before the Brisbane International.
“I try to put myself in a position that in a few months I will be ready to compete for the things that I want to compete [for].”
A serious tilt at a record-extending 15th French Open title would be the dream scenario. This season may have been billed as a farewell tour, but surely no-one expects Rafael Nadal to turn up just to shake a few hands and deliver a few words of thanks and appreciation.
He is hoping to play a full schedule and if he can build momentum in tournaments in Australia, the Middle East and Indian Wells, the Spaniard will have high ambitions for the clay.
The tentative signs are promising. Nadal is practising well, his hip has healed and even though the degenerative condition that affects his left foot will always give serious cause for concern, he sounds excited about the year ahead.
“The foot is an ongoing problem for ever,” he continued.
Rafael Nadal returned to tennis on 31 December after recovering from a hip operation
“But, if I have to be honest, today I am good. I don’t have a lot of problems. I am able to practise and enjoy every practice, and that’s the main thing for me more than winning or losing – just feel myself that it’s not a drama to play tennis in terms of pain.
“What makes me feel scared, and thinking about retirement, is all the problems that I had on a daily basis.”
Nadal has practised with Andy Murray and world number eight Holger Rune, as well as Tuesday’s first-round opponent Dominic Thiem, since arriving in Brisbane.
Former US Open champion Thiem, who is ranked 98 and had to qualify, has not been the same player since a chronic wrist injury – but remains a potent threat.
Nadal has not been idle over the past year. Along with all the rehabilitation, he has enjoyed watching his one-year-old son grow, although he says it would have been even better had he been able to take him on tour around the world.
He did, though, enjoy his “longest ever holiday” with family and friends when he took his boat to Greece for more than a month and there was also his academy and other business interests to attend to.
And so when the time does come, and that may not necessarily be this year, he thinks he will very swiftly come to terms with retirement.
“I am not the guy that my life was only tennis,” Nadal said.
“I think that helps a lot. I have a lot of things outside of tennis that makes me happy. I have a lot of projects that are going to make me feel active, and going to motivate me to explore different things.
“But, of course, when you change something in your life – anything – it’s a process that you need to adapt.
“Things are not easy when you stop doing a thing that you have been doing for almost all your life. But I’m not scared about that.”
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