14-Time Winner of French Open Falls in Opener

'I really hope to see you again,' Rafael Nadal tells crowd, 'but I don't know'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 27, 2024 5:05 PM CDT
14-Time Winner of French Open Falls in Opener
Spain's Rafael Nadal returns the ball against Germany's Alexander Zverev at Roland Garros.   (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

The noise was loud and relentless, a chorus of thousands belting out "Ra-fa! Ra-fa!" The 15,000 or so on hand roared their support Monday when Rafael Nadal stepped out into Court Philippe Chatrier at the French Open, voices echoing under the closed roof of a place he called "magical for me"—especially when he whipped his trademark topspin lefty forehand or chopped his two-fisted cross-court backhand or placed a volley perfectly to claim a point. The problem for Nadal, who has won the tournament 14 times, and his fans is that there were not nearly enough such points for him in his match against Alexander Zverev, the AP reports.

Nadal lost 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3 in the first round in what might turn out to be his last match at the clay-court tournament he dominated for so long. "If it's the last time that I played here," Nadal said afterward, "I am at peace with myself." It is the first time he has dropped a match before the fourth round at the French Open. "The last two years, I have been working and going through probably the toughest process in my tennis career with the dream to come back here. At least I did," Nadal said. He had indicated 2024 likely would be his last season, but he said Saturday he is not absolutely certain of that. He reiterated as much after only his fourth defeat in 116 career matches at the place.

"I am not saying I am retiring today," said the Spaniard. Monday's match ended in anticlimactic fashion, with the 22-time Grand Slam champion unable to play his customary way after 1½ years of hip and abdominal injuries. Nadal, who turns 38 on June 3, has been limited to 16 matches since the start of last year. His infrequent play dropped his ranking to No. 275, and he was unseeded for the French Open for the first time. Addressing fans directly after the match, Nadal said: "The feelings that you made me feel here are unbelievable. I really hope to see you again, but I don't know. Merci beaucoup."

(More Rafael Nadal stories.)

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