Nadal won't '100% close door' on 'magical' French Open

Last time?: Rafael Nadal holds a French Open press conference on Saturday (Bertrand GUAY)
Last time?: Rafael Nadal holds a French Open press conference on Saturday (Bertrand GUAY)

Rafael Nadal said Saturday that he is likely appearing at the French Open for the final time but cautioned it was "not 100%" certain, describing the tournament where he has been champion 14 times as a "magical place".

"It's a big, big chance that this is going to be my last Roland Garros, but if I have to tell you it's 100% my last Roland Garros, sorry, but I will not, because I cannot predict what's going on. I hope you understand," said the Spaniard.

Nadal, who will celebrate his 38th birthday on June 3, faces world number four Alexander Zverev in the first round in Paris on Monday.

The Spanish legend has racked up 112 wins in 115 matches at the tournament since his title-winning 2005 debut when he was just 19.

He has 22 Grand Slam titles -- second only to Novak Djokovic's 24 on the all-time men's list -- but his career has been plagued by injuries.

Nadal has played just four tournaments since January last year after suffering a hip injury and then a muscle tear.

As a result, his ranking has slumped to 276 in the world and he comes into the French Open unseeded.

"I have been going through a long process of recovery with a very difficult injury, almost two years of suffering, but I feel better now," he added.

"I have fewer limitations than three, four weeks ago, without a doubt."

Nadal had to sit out the 2023 French Open through injury.

The year before he won his 14th title but revealed that he could only play with daily pain-killing injections in his feet.

- 'Positive legacy' -

"In some ways I don't want to close the door 100%. I am enjoying playing tennis. I am travelling with the family. They are enjoying," added Nadal on his reluctance to call time on his career.

"So give me some time. Maybe in one month and a half I say, okay, it's enough, I can't keep going, but today in some way I cannot guarantee that that's going to be the last one. But of course it's a big chance."

Nadal arrives in Paris having yet to make a clay-court quarter-final this season. In Rome, he was defeated in the second round.

"I feel competitive in training. Maybe not in an official match, but when I enter the court, I feel like I can beat anyone," he said.

Nadal holds a 7-3 winning record over Zverev.

Five of those victories came on clay including a semi-final triumph at Roland Garros in 2022 when the German was forced to quit with ankle ligament damage.

In Paris so far this week, Nadal has practised in front of packed courts.

He hit with fellow former champion Stan Wawrinka who described Nadal as "strong as ever".

Fifth-ranked Daniil Medvedev, who trained with him on Thursday, said he was happy not to face him in the first round.

"This place is magical for me. If in the bottom of my heart, I didn't have any hope to have success here and to create a beautiful thing this year, I would not be here in front of you guys," added Nadal.

"So I still have the motivation and a small, at least is a small hope to play well."

And if 2024 turns out to be Nadal's French Open farewell?

"I just can say thanks to all the love I received from all the players, from the organisers, from the tournaments, from all the community of tennis and sport.

"I feel very proud that probably I leave a positive legacy there."

French veteran Gael Monfils, who is also 37 and first played Nadal in 2005, said: "we should enjoy it as much as we can".

"I wonder if we're not going back to traditional tournaments as they were played a long time ago, because the last 20 years are not run-of-the-mill normal years," added Monfils of two decades dominated by Nadal, Novak Djokovic and the now-retired Roger Federer.