Rafael Nadal - Australian Open 2023

The Unthinkable Has Happened: Rafael Nadal is NOT the French Open Favorite

The 2023 Australian Open was not a good tournament for Rafael Nadal or his legions of fans. The legendary Spaniard’s early exit at the hands of Mackenzie McDonald was not just painful for those wanting to see him succeed in the present; there were also worries about the future, given Nadal’s hip troubles. The sense of panic over Nadal’s future intensified when his uncle Toni cast doubt over the 36-year-old’s chances of playing regularly in 2023.

Nadal Snr’s interview with Vanity Fair Espana suggested that the younger Nadal’s participation this year would be limited. Although, it has initially been thought that Nadal will be out of action for around eight weeks, with a comeback mooted for some time in late March.

Nadal third-favorite for 16th French Open

Nadal’s hip was clearly troubling him in Melbourne, and we know from Andy Murray’s experiences that the wear and tear on that part of the body is not easily mended. But even at that, it might surprise some to learn that bookmakers have elected to not make him favorite for the French Open. According to the odds in the online betting by Mr Green for the French Open 2023, Nadal is 33/10 to win the tournament, behind both the favorite Novak Djokovic (7/4) and his compatriot Carlos Alcarez (41/20).

Now, there is a number of ways to look at that information. First, we should point out that the French Open is still months away, and the odds could certainly change if Nadal shows the requisite form and fitness. Secondly, those odds are very tight, so it’s not as if the bookmakers are ruling out a 15th French Open title for the clay court master.

But it remains striking that sportsbooks have decided to put Nadal behind both Alcarez and Djokovic, at least when we consider it from a historical perspective. If you go through the Grand Slam history of the last two decades or so, it was rare to find anyone with shorter odds for any event than it was for Nadal to win the French Open. The Spaniard was – with good reason – often quoted at odds-on to win at Roland Garros, something unprecedented in tennis.

Toni Nadal interview suggested this year could be difficult

Perhaps the question, then, is whether the bookmakers know something that the rest of us do not. Yes, we saw Nadal struggle in Melbourne, but it’s not as if he has been injury free his entire career. Indeed, had he not struggled with injuries more than most players, many of us believe that his Grand Slam tally would be a lot higher than 22. The Toni Nadal interview was concerning, sure, and yet it was not totally different to other Nadal injury narratives we have heard before.

Of course, the retirements of Roger Federer and Serena Williams last year will have acted as a reminder that this era of GOATs in tennis cannot go on forever. Nadal will be 37 in June. And while it is too early to talk about retirement, we know that it will come at some point soon. It will be interesting, however, to see if he, like Williams and Federer, continues to try to beat the clock and the ravages of injury. As we know, both Williams and Federer had long goodbyes.

Perhaps Nadal will go out at the top? Lest we forget, he went into the 2023 Australian Open as the number one seed. He also won two Slams last year, so it’s not as if we have been witnessing a slow, inexorable decline. Still, we shall see what happens over the coming weeks. But one thing is for sure: If the greatest clay court player in history is fit, he should be the favorite for the 2023 French Open.

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Tim Farthing, Tennishead Editorial Director & Owner, has been a huge tennis fan his whole life. He's a tennis journalist and entrepreneur as well as playing tennis to a national standard. He also helps manage his local club and volunteers for his local tennis organisation. He's a specialist in content about the administration of professional tennis and tennis coaching for all levels.