Rafael Nadal on the Back Foot as Injury Clouds Roland Garros Prospects

A chronic foot problem may be the biggest threat to Rafael Nadal’s bid for a 14th title at the French Open this month, as an injury prevented the Spaniard from rediscovering the form he would need to say goodbye to a host of opponents.

Nadal, who is also looking for his 22nd title that would give him a little more breathing room ahead of Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, said he is considering retirement after missing the greater part of 2021 due to the problem.

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The 35-year-old didn’t appear to have lost a stride at the Australian Open earlier this year, however, and his hard-court win in Melbourne gave him a record Grand Slam title to smash a triple tie with Federer and Djokovic.

Injuries came back again in March when he suffered a stress fracture in his rib during his run to the Indian Wells final and the left-handed man returned to competition in Madrid only this month.

And in another blow to his French Open hopes, Nadal was defeated by 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz in the Madrid quarter-finals before losing to Canadian Denis Shapovalov in the third round of the Rome Masters.

“I had my feet up again with a lot of pain,” a frustrated Nadal told reporters after losing to Shapovalov. “I’m a player living with an injury – that’s nothing new.

“Unfortunately, my day is tough, honestly. Even like that, I try so hard… It can be frustrating that many days I can’t train in the right way.”

Any doubts about his participation in the French Open, which begins on Sunday and ends with the men’s final on June 5, died when he appeared in front of Court Philippe Chatrier on Wednesday for a training session and showed no signs of alarm.

Nadal won the French Open four years in a row before losing to champion Djokovic in the semi-finals last year – the third time he has lost on the clay since his debut in 2005.

The Spaniard will have to quickly restore his indomitable aura at Roland Garros – Djokovic appeared to be at the height of his brilliance during his Rome Masters career, and Alcaraz signaled his potential in Paris with clay-court victories in Barcelona and Madrid.

But the world number five, whose achievements have earned him a steel statue at Roland Garros, should be considered the favorite if he is fit, said Tim Henman, who reached the semi-finals of the French Open in 2004.

“It’s hard to call,” Eurosport tennis expert Heinemann said. “It’s clear that Nadal has come up with a big question.”

“I think everyone is hoping he’s fit and healthy while Djokovic won last week in Rome and he played very well… If Nadal is fit, given his record, I think you should give him the advantage.”

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