Nadal sparks retirement fears amid Djokovic comments
Spanish great Rafael Nadal says that he could be set for his French Open swan song on Tuesday against world number one Novak Djokovic as the 21-time Grand Slam winner stokes retirement rumors ahead of the pivotal quarter-final clash at Roland Garros.
Nadal, 35, has dominated the French Open throughout his record-breaking career, winning the Grand Slam event a remarkable 13 times between 2005 and 2020, but the clay court has appeared to be in philosophical mood ahead of his match with Djokovic.
The Spaniard needed all five sets to squeeze past ninth seed Felix Auger Aliassime on Sunday in what was a fiercely competitive match, particularly compared to Djokovic's comprehensive straight sets win against Diego Schwartzman earlier the same day.
And ahead of the latest showdown between the two of the most dominant players of their generation, Nadal has admitted that his French Open career could shudder to a halt in the French sun this week.
“Being honest, every match that I play here, I don't know if it's going to be my last match here in Roland Garros, in my tennis career,” said Nadal to the media following his win against Auger Aliassime.
“But ultimately they're special matches in a special setting and I'll give it my best.
“In this case, perhaps together with our match in 2015, they're the two matches that I face Djokovic here and he leads as the clear favorite. I am aware of what can happen and I am aware that it may be my last game in this tournament.”
Last year's French Open saw Djokovic hand Nadal what was just his third-ever defeat at the event on his way to beating Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final.
Should Djokovic triumph once again this year, he will equal Nadal's record of 21 career Grand Slam victories - a record which the Spaniard achieved at the Australian Open earlier this year after Djokovic was deported from the country due to issues with his visa.
The Australian Open has long been considered as Djokovic's favorite event, much in the same manner as the French Open has become associated with Nadal.
Nadal has battled through various injuries in recent times, with a chronic foot problem understood to be hampering him.
However, Barbara Rittner, a former tennis star turned pundit, says that if there is any player who can overcome physical obstacles, it is Rafael Nadal.
“Everyone knows how demoralizing physical pain is. If anyone can handle it, it's Rafael Nadal. He has shown repeatedly how impressively he can come back after injury breaks,” she said.
“But I have the feeling it's a bit different now - the way he expresses himself, with this skepticism. At some point there's also the question: 'When does the pain become so great that it overrides the motivation I still have?'”