From viral 'rituals' to a silent struggle with pain: Rafael Nadal's tennis career was never meant to happen.

Rafael Nadal, widely considered one of the best tennis players to have ever lived, has announced he will retire in 2024.

In an emotional press conference, the 36-year-old announced he is withdrawing from the upcoming French Open explaining it would be "impossible" to play with the injuries sustained earlier this year.

He's been off court since January, after injuring his left hip flexor, when he lost in the second round of the Australian Open.

“First thing, I’m not going to be able to play in Roland Garros," he told reporters.

“I was even working as much as possible every single day for the last four months, they have been very difficult months because we were not able to find a solution to the problems I had in Australia.

“Today I’m still in a position where I am not able to feel myself ready to compete at the standards I need to be to play Roland Garros... My goal and my ambition is to try and stop and give myself an opportunity to enjoy the next year that will probably be my last year in the professional tour,” Nadal said.

"I believe, if I keep going now, I will not be able to make it happen.”

Watch Nadal during Australian Open men's final. Post continues after video.

Video via ABC.

Nadal has had a record-breaking career, but it's not been without challenges.

The Spaniard suffers from a rare birth defect called Kohler’s foot – meaning the navicular bone in his left foot never properly developed. For a young Nadal, it meant his foot was swelling after playing and was always on the verge of fracture.

For many sufferers, not only is competitive sport out of the question, but the condition means they develop a limp or unusual style of walking.

Nadal was 17 when he received the diagnosis, which some researchers believe is caused by excessive strain on the foot at a young age.

A tennis racquet was thrust into Nadal’s hand for the first time by his uncle, Toni Nadal, when he was three years old. Recognising a natural talent, Toni Nadal, a former professional tennis player, began to train him.

By eight, Nadal was winning under 12 championships, while also playing football just as competitively. By 12, he was winning Spanish and European titles.

But pain became more recurrent and more debilitating as he developed through adolescence.

When the diagnosis finally came at 17, Nadal was told by doctors he would have to retire his tennis career – before it had even begun.


This was not a conclusion, however, that Nadal or his father Sebastian Nadal, readily accepted. They sought different specialists, until one recommended an insole that would cushion the arch of Nadal’s foot and redistribute weight to parts that were not so damaged.

The treatment appeared to work. At first.

But pain again became unbearable in 2005, this time not only in his foot, but in both his knees. The redistribution of weight had put enormous pressure on his joints.

At 21 years old, Nadal began suffering from patellar tendonitis in both knees, responsible for pain so severe it would cause him to withdraw from several championships over the course of his career.

Over the next 10 years, Nadal would take 25 months off because of injury – including foot, knee, wrist and more recently, hip pain.

Let's not forget the year a photo of Nadal’s hand went viral during the French Open, almost as a metaphor for how much this man is willing to endure without giving up.

rafael nadal
Rafael Nadal's hand injury at 2018 French Open. Image via Getty.

Nadal is also famous for his incredibly predictable behaviour during a match. 

When he arrives at each match, he plants his energy drink slightly in front of his water bottle with both labels perfectly facing the court. At every change of ends, he straightens his two water bottles – ensuring they’re perfectly aligned.

Before each and every serve, he places his hair behind his ear and fiddles with his shorts.

And after every single point, Nadal towels himself – even if he isn’t sweaty.

Despite how easy it has looked, for Nadal, every second hurts. But for him, it's always been worth it.

Feature Image: Getty Images. 

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