Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal could both play on beyond 2024

Rafael Nadal - Rafael Nadal: This French Open may not be my last
Rafael Nadal may have more matches left in him at Roland Garros than many have assumed - Getty Images/Clive Brunskill

Two of tennis’s biggest names have refused to confirm that they will be retiring this season. Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Rafael Nadal told reporters that “I don’t want to close 100 per cent the door”, while Andy Murray offered a gnomic “When the time is right, I will stop.”

Nadal in particular was in a very different mood to the haunted figure we saw in Rome a fortnight ago, after his one-sided 6-1, 6-3 defeat at the hands of Hubert Hurkacz.

Looking fresh and surprisingly confident for a man whose participation here had been in doubt, Nadal suggested that he might not be on a farewell tour after all.

“First thing, I am enjoying playing tennis,” Nadal said. “Second thing, I am traveling with the family. They are enjoying. I am enjoying sharing all this process with them.

“And third thing, I was not able to explore how I will be able to play in healthy conditions, playing without limitation.

“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 [the French Open] is going to be the last one.”

Rafael Nadal
Nadal has plenty to ponder at the moment, but he still thinks his career could go beyond this year - Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

Nadal’s comments are likely to leave the French Tennis Federation in a quandary. He already has a statue on the grounds of an event that he has won a mind-boggling 14 times. But should there be some sort of farewell – in the manner of Murray’s misleading 2019 ceremony in Melbourne – if he were to lose to fourth seed Alexander Zverev on Monday?

Nadal has already received such a ceremony after his elimination from the Madrid Open. The organisers had prepared five banners – one for each time he had won the event – that were supposed to unroll from the rafters at the end of his final match. (In a bungle that felt very typical of tennis, one of them got stuck halfway down.)

The Italian Open in Rome also tried to give him a send-off, but Nadal left the court in a hurry after the Hurkacz defeat, and did not return.

Reports from around the grounds in Paris suggest that Nadal has shown glimpses of his old form in practice. He is also understood to have seen and noted the words of Eurosport pundit Mischa Zverev, who said that he expects his brother to win because Nadal is “slower” and lacks the fitness levels of old.

This might not seem controversial, but there is still a locker-room taboo against a player, or any member of his camp, knocking an opponent in the build-up to the match.

Assessing his own progress since that dispiriting showing in Rome, Nadal explained that “I am having a good week of practices. Is the first week since I come back that I am able to run the proper way without having a lot of limitations. That encourage me.

“Of course that’s not meaning that I’m going to be out there on Monday and I’m going to play incredible, no? Going to be something very difficult to make that happen because I didn’t have under my shoulders enough moments to play that highest level.

“But in some way this place is magical for me, no? On the practices, I can tell you, I am able to play almost against anyone. And I don’t feel much worse than the [other players], so that gives me some hope, yeah.”

If Zverev, the recent Rome champion, stands among the most challenging first-round opponents in the draw, then Murray could have done worse than to come up against Stan Wawrinka – the 39-year-old who is one of few men older than him in the tournament – in Sunday night’s first-round showpiece.

Andy Murray of Great Britain plays a backhand against serves against Sebastian Korda of the United States in their practice match prior to the French Open at Roland Garros
Murray is using a new racket for this year's French Open - Getty Images/Clive Brunskill

One oddity of Murray’s recent comeback from ruptured ankle ligaments is that he has exchanged his trusty Head racket, which he has been using for the best part of 20 years, for a more powerful Yonex model.

Asked whether this might imply a longer-term plan than we had been expecting, Murray was non-committal. “When the time is right, I will stop,” he said. “I don’t know if I will play past the summer. The results and stuff I have been having are not what I would want.

“But the mentality is always to try to get better,” Murray added, “whether it’s with my rackets and rehab or whatever. Is there anything that you can do that might help and influence some results or not?”

Murray’s first-round meeting with Stan Wawrinka on Sunday has been chosen for the first night session of the tournament and will not start before 7.15pm (BST).