Rafael Nadal’s 2023 season was curtailed by an unfortunate abdominal injury during the Australian Open, and the Spaniard hasn’t returned to court since due to surgery on his hip performed in June.
He was also forced to pull out of the clay court season, which is usually his favourite period of the year, and revealed in his message of withdrawal from Roland Garros that he would likely only return in 2024 for one last season.
After French Open, Rafael Nadal also missed at the ongoing Wimbledon, where he is a two-time champion
Nadal also missed at the ongoing Wimbledon, where he is a two-time champion, and an iconic player after a string of successive finals between 2006 and 2011, where he reached the finals in every season except 2009 when he didn’t participate.
His uncle and long-time coach, Toni Nadal, used his column in El Pais to write about the first ever Wimbledon tournament the younger Nadal competed in, 20 years ago in 2003 as a teenager.
“It was the first time that Rafael had the opportunity to participate in one of the four big tournaments [Grand Slams]. He was just 17 years old and his professional career was limited to three previous tournaments: Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Hamburg,” wrote Toni.
Nadal famously started off his Roland Garros dominance with a bang, winning on debut in 2005, but that didn’t come until two years after his Wimbledon debut.
Toni wrote about what a significant moment that was in his development, especially as a grass-court player, for someone who had grown up excelling on clay.
“His first meeting was on court No. 7 against the Croatian Mario Ancic. Despite then-tennis guru Nick Bolletieri’s prediction that our opponent would prevail easily, Rafael managed to not only win the match in four sets, but also reach a creditable third round.”
Ancic would go on to become a top 10 player, and Nadal would back up his victory with a win over British wildcard Lee Childs, who had beaten Nikolay Davydenko in the first round. Nadal would then fall to Thai top 10 player Paradorn Srichaphan, ending his tournament, but a very young Nadal had made a strong account of himself.
“That first experience helped us to return home with the confidence that, indeed, my nephew’s play could be adapted to the grass surface,” continued Toni. The 2003 tournament was memorable for many reasons, such as the absence of 7-time champion Pete Sampras, who would soon after announce his retirement officially, as well as being the first slam title for Roger Federer.
“‘One day we have to win here’, I told him before leaving the club and flying back to Mallorca. I remember that precise moment and how this phrase became one of the great hopes in Rafael’s career,” continued Uncle Toni. “Good proof that we put in all our efforts were the five consecutive finals that he played on the Centre Court of the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club.”
Nadal won the Wimbledon title in 2008, beating Federer in an iconic final encounter after the Swiss had beat him the two previous years. He would return to win it in his most successful year on tour in 2010, beating Tomas Berdych in the finals, who himself had beaten Federer in the quarters and Djokovic in the semis.
Nadal would suffer a lean patch for a few years following that, but has reached the semifinals in each of his last three appearances, in 2018, 2019, and 2022. He was scheduled to play Nick Kyrgios in last year’s final, but withdrew from that match.
“I am enormously excited to see my nephew’s recovery and see his return next year to this magnificent setting to prove, as [singer and songwriter] Carlos Gardel said, that 20 years are nothing,” concluded Toni Nadal, echoing the thoughts and wishes of thousands of tennis fans across the world who would love to see Nadal back in the all-white outfits at Wimbledon once again.