The fervent forced right of the Chilean Fernando González is truncated in the net of the Tennis Center of the Olympic Park and Rafael Nadal, in a reflex act, collapses on the bluish decoturf. These are his first moments as an Olympic champion and it is the first Olympic gold medal won by a Spanish tennis player, in 2008 full of “first times” for the manacorí.
Almost 16 years will have passed since that oriental feat when, in Bois de Boulogne, tennis began its march in Paris 2024, on Saturday, July 27. Since Beijing, Nadal has not won the Olympic Games on an individual level again. Yes, he did it in doubles in Rio 2016, together with Marc López. Less than 11 months after the opening ceremony and in full recovery from his left psoas tendon injury that has kept him away from the courts since January, the multi-champion Spaniard dared to dream of a new Olympic participation in an extensive interview with Movistar+.
“The Games, on a personal level, I would like to play them once again,” he warned, knowing that the stage in sight is close to ideal: in clay and in Roland Garros, the one he made his own 14 times, but with which he moderates his ambitions in the face of a possible return: “the illusion is not to return and win it”, he opened up.
The recent elimination in the Davis Cup will prevent Spain from playing the Final of November 8 in Malaga and left its tennis players without official competition representing their country for the rest of the season. Indeed, if Nadal can defend the red jersey again, he would do so no earlier than 2024. Considering that team tournaments prior to the Games are not abundant (the United Cup in January or the Davis Cup, without a defined format, are the only options), Paris gains strength and even more so after Nadal’s confession: “I have always been a fan of the Games,” he acknowledged.
Deepening his devotion to the five rings, the owner of fourth place in Rio 2016 (he was defeated by Kei Nishikori in the bronze fight) pondered an extra-sporting and distinctive component of the Olympic spirit, coexistence. “I have experienced incredible moments of living together, of seeing what sport is in its purest essence,” he remarked.
If the final decision is not to participate in the French capital, it would be his third loss at the Olympic level due to physical reasons. In London 2012, tendonitis in his kneecap ruined a plan that also included being the flag bearer of the delegation. In Tokyo 2021, accumulated fatigue as a result of a tight schedule forced him to resign a handful of weeks in advance. “I understand that this is the right decision in order to extend my sports career,” he said.
Physical strength will be, at 38 years old, an essential requirement again, according to his statement. “The Games would be a nice touch if you’re going to be competitive,” he said. However, the winner of 22 Grand Slam tournaments put on the table a variant that would work both as a plan b if he doesn’t play singles and as a complement if he does. “I would like to play doubles with Alcaraz,” he said. “It would be a good motivation and an additional incentive to be able to close my Olympic cycle playing with Carlos, with everything he is achieving,” he continued.
In addition, he defined his compatriot as a tennis player who is “one step above the others” and placed him as “Djokovic’s only rival”. Speaking of the Serbian, he has already anticipated that he will emphatically look for the missing trophy. Alcaraz, meanwhile, also expressed his desire to embrace Olympic glory together with his idol: “It would be perfect to win a gold medal in doubles,” he said.
As an Olympic champion, the ITF will grant Nadal a place if he fails to qualify by ranking. The condition is that he is among the best 400 players in the world (until Sunday the 24th he was ranked 237th, although he could apply the protected ranking) and that Spain does not exceed the limit of four tennis players in the draw. Will it come to fruition?