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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Wednesday, January 10, 2024
Roland Garros' red clay is Rafael Nadal's career-defining surface. 

The king of clay's performance during clay season, peaking at Roland Garros, will determine his future, some former champions say.

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The 22-time Grand Slam champion Nadal withdrew from the Australian Open due to a minor muscle tear near his surgically-repaired hip.

Speaking to Spanish sports site MARCA, former French Open finalist Alex Corretja said if Nadal is healthy and delivers the level he did in Brisbane, not only is the 14-time French Open champion a threat to win Paris, he could opt to extend his career past 2024.

"If Rafa is in good health, it will be difficult for him to retire," Corretja told MARCA. "They take away your injuries or your level, and if he doesn't have any injuries, the level has already picked him up again.

"The question is how his body will withstand so many breaks and start again. Their level doesn't leave me in any doubt. If after a year he has been able to play with the fluidity of Brisbane, when he has played 10 games he will be at 70 or 80 per cent of his level. And with 15 matches, he is a candidate to win Roland Garros."


A post shared by Rafa Nadal (@rafaelnadal)

While Corretja envisions a healthy Nadal transforming the terre battue into a launching pad, former world No. 1 John McEnroe says the French Open could be the finish line for the 37-year-old Spanish superstar if he continues to be dogged by injury.

"I think Rafa was hoping, 'hopefully I’ll be ready for the French, see if my body holds up there,' " McEnroe told the media on an ESPN Zoom call this week. "If it doesn’t, I think you’ll see him not play anymore.

"We’re all obviously hopeful he can because Rafa has been amazing for the game. We’d like to see him as long as we can."

Photo credit: Bradley Kanaris/Getty