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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Monday, May 27, 2024
Parting can be painful.

Former world No. 1 Rafael Nadal walked off Court Philippe Chatrier today with a parting promise.

Emotional Exit: Zverev Hands Nadal First RG First-Round Loss 

The King of Clay vows he will return to Roland Garros to play the Paris Olympic Games, July 27-August 4th—if his body permits.

Reigning Rome champion Alexander Zverev delivered poise and power hitting Nadal right out of Roland Garros 6-3, 7-6(5), 6-3—in what is likely the greatest clay-court champion’s final French Open match.

It was Nadal's first French Open first-round loss in 19 appearances and, coming after his Rome defeat to Hubert Hurkacz, it's the first time he's lost back-to-back clay-court matches in his storied career.

The 37-year-old Spanish superstars, who turns 38 on June 3rd, said while "it’s a big percentage I will probably not be back,” to play the French Open, he fully intends to play the Paris Olympics, staged on Roland Garros' red clay this summer.

The two-time Olympic gold-medal champion—Nadal owns a singles gold and partnered current co-coach Marc Lopez to win the 2016 Olympic doubles gold medal in Rio—said continuing his competitive career beyond the Paris Olympics will depend on three clear factors:

1. Motivation

2. Health

3. Competitiveness

"My mindset was ready till Olympics and then I need to check how I feel in different ways, I mean, in terms of personal motivation, body feelings, and then in terms of level of tennis it make sense to keep playing," Nadal said after suffering just his fourth career loss at Roland Garros. "I went on court with the strange feeling that I'm gonna be playing first round in Roland Garros, I will not be favorite, and that's the true.

"But, you know, I went on court with the idea of fight for the match, to put the level, the energy there, and just hope that the opponent don't play at his best, because always first round is tough. For me, it was difficult to show a much better level than today in this particular moment in this first round, because I played for moments at I think a very good level, but in other moments I missed."

The fourth-seeded Zverev joins world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and Swedish power player Robin Soderling as only the third man in history to defeat Nadal at the French Open.

Despite the defeat, Nadal said he's still having a blast playing, loves to practice and compete and hopes to continue if he's healthy.

"That's why I am not saying I am retiring today," Nadal said. "So if I keep enjoying doing what I am doing and I feel myself competitive and healthy enough to enjoy, I want to keep going for a while. I don't know for how long, but I want to keep going for a while, because they are having fun, I am having fun, and I need to see, I need to give myself a little bit longer chances to see if my level is growing and my body is holding, and then let's make a decision.

"But give me two months till Olympics, and then let's see if I am able to keep going or I say, okay, guys, it's more than enough. Let's see."

In two months time, it's conceivable Nadal, if healthy, could well be back at Roland Garros playing for an Olympic medal.

The former world No. 1 Nadal captured the singles gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Games defeating Lleyton Hewitt, Igor Andreev, Jurgen Melzer, Novak Djokovic and Chilean Fernando Gonzalez in the gold-medal match.

Eight years later, Nadal and good buddy Marc Lopez won the doubles gold at the Rio Olympics stopping Canadians Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil in the semifinals before knocking off Romania's Florin Mergea Horia Tecau in the gold-medal match.

An Alcaraz-Nadal pairing would be the most compelling Olympic men's doubles duo since Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka partnered to claim the 2008 Olympic doubles gold medal.

The Swiss squad had planned a reunion Dream Team pairing of Federer and former Hopman Cup partner Martina Hingis at the 2016 Games, but that Dream Team did not compete due to injury.

Following his Roland Garros opening-round win, Alcaraz reiterated his goal to partner Nadal at the Paris Olympic Games.

"Yeah, if everything goes well, we are going to play doubles together here," Alcaraz said.

Photo credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty