Rafael Nadal I AP
Manacor, Spain: Rafael Nadal on Thursday withdrew from the French Open because his hip injury has not healed and said he expects 2024 to be his final year in professional tennis.
"It's not a decision I'm taking, it's a decision my body is taking," said the 36-year-old Spanish player, who has played at the claycourt major every year since 2005 and won it 14 times.
Nadal said he was taking a few months off, meaning he will also definitely miss Wimbledon and most likely the US Open, before starting to play again.
And he said next year would bring down the curtain on a career that has so far produced 22 Grand Slam singles titles.
"It's probably going to be my last year on the professional tour, I can't say this 100 percent because you never know what's going to happen," he told a news conference.
"The injury I suffered in Australia has not healed as we hoped.
"Roland Garros became impossible. I will not be there after many years, with everything that (tournament) means to me."
Nadal said he will not set a date for his return, but said the Davis Cup in November could be a potential target.
The former world number one has not played since the Australian Open in January where he picked up a hip injury in a shock second round loss to Mackenzie McDonald of the United States.
He was expected to recover inside six weeks, comfortably in time for the claycourt season and to launch an assault on a record-extending 15th title at Roland Garros.
However, with his 37th birthday little over two weeks away and having skipped Masters events in Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo, Madrid and Rome, Nadal appears to be facing a final battle he cannot win.
After a career plagued by knee, wrist and foot injuries in particular, the alarm bells have been ringing ever louder over the last year.
Nadal's undefeated start to 2022, which saw him pick up a second Australian Open title, ended with a chest injury at Indian Wells.
"It feels like a needle all the time inside," he admitted.
He swept to a 14th French Open in June but only after revealing he had required daily pain-killing injections in his foot, a consequence of suffering from Mueller-Weiss Syndrome, a rare degenerative condition.
"I played with no feeling in the foot, with a pain-killing injection in the nerve. The foot was asleep, and that's why I was able to play," he said at the time in Paris.
He added that he would undergo a treatment which would involve burning the nerves in his foot to permanently dull the pain.
Weeks later, his dream of a third Wimbledon title ended in a semi-final withdrawal due to an abdominal strain.
Nadal's lengthy absence this year has also seen him drop out of the world's top 10 for the first time in 18 years.
His record at the French Open is unlikely ever to be broken.
Since his 2005 championship winning debut, he has racked up 112 wins and only been defeated three times.
Two of those losses came against great rival Novak Djokovic in 2015 and 2021. The other was to Robin Soderling in 2009.
Djokovic, who shares the men's record of 22 Slams with Nadal, will start as French Open favourite this year alongside world number one Carlos Alcaraz who is desperate not to see his Spanish compatriot throw in the towel.
"Let's hope he continues to play for a long time and that we can enjoy his tennis," said Alcaraz, the 20-year-old heir apparent to Nadal's throne.