Rafael Nadal - Brisbane International 2024

Rafael Nadal ‘maybe the most important tennis player of all time’ claims former No.1

Rafael Nadal has been highly praised by seven-time Grand Slam singles champion Mats Wilander, who has spoken about how he thinks the Spaniard should end his career.

Nadal returned to the ATP Tour last week after almost a year on the injury sidelines and despite reaching the quarter-finals in Brisbane, he suffered a ‘micro tear’ that has led to the former No.1 withdrawing from the Australian Open.

The 22-time Grand Slam champion has been very vocal about the fact that 2024 is likely to be his final year as a professional tennis player and Wilander has drawn comparison to Roger Federer’s farewell.

“We want him to be able to say farewell, of course. I’m not really sure what that farewell is supposed to look like,” said Wilander. “Obviously, we had maybe one of the greatest farewells ever with Roger Federer at the Laver Cup in the O2 Arena. It wasn’t unexpected that he was eventually going to say farewell but it wasn’t a very serious day of tennis.”

Wilander continued, “He got to play doubles with Rafa Nadal, he lost against the American team and it was just a happy day, even though Federer lost. It was on his terms in a way. Yes, he was injured, but he just got older.

“We had the farewell of Serena Williams a couple of years ago at the US Open, which was amazing. She filled the stadium she beat Anett [Kontaveit] in.  Maybe we won’t get the same farewell. For me, all I really want to see from Rafa Nadal is that he says farewell when he wants to say farewell, not when he’s forced to say farewell, and I think at the moment the injury world is not being very kind.”

In his Australian Open withdrawal statement, Rafael Nadal revealed that he is hoping to reach his ‘best level’ in three months and Wilander has suggested that the 37-year-old should end his career at Roland Garros.

“I think it would be nice to see him healthy, maybe come to the French Open, play one more time, maybe win a couple of matches and lose to somebody that he deserves to,” claimed Wilander. “Lose to a younger player, or maybe a colossus, maybe Novak Djokovic. But we’re hoping for miracles, and the miracles might not happen.

“To see him play one more time in Brisbane was brilliant, to see the passion, to see him sweating like nobody else. I think that’s the memory that I will have with Rafa, not the press message which says that, ‘Unfortunately, I have to pull out of the Australian Open’.”

The Swede concluded, “I’m not looking at that. I’m looking at the last image of Nadal with him sweating, missing match points in Brisbane against Jordan Thompson. That’s my memory. He’s one of the greatest players of all time, and maybe the most important professional tennis player of all time.”

Roland Garros begins on Sunday 26th May this year, meaning that Nadal has over four months to prepare for the tournament where he has won 14 titles.

Inside the baseline…

Rafael Nadal withdrawing from the Australian Open feels bittersweet, as he has reassured fans that it’s more of a precautionary thing rather than a serious injury. Roland Garros does seem like the perfect place for Nadal to retire, however with the Olympics also being held there he may just leave it until then to say farewell at the biggest sporting event in history.

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Matthew Johns, Tennishead Writer, is a professional tennis journalist with a specialist degree in Sports Journalism. He's a keen tennis player having represented his local club and University plus he's also a qualified tennis coach. Matthew has a deep knowledge of tennis especially the ATP Tour and thrives on breaking big tennis news stories for Tennishead.