What Nadal Is Capable Of Doing On Clay Is Unknown In 2024 Says Former Rival Tsonga

What Nadal Is Capable Of Doing On Clay Is Unknown In 2024 Says Former Rival Tsonga

by Nurein Ahmed

Rafael Nadal is the greatest claycourt player of all time, but he is a "real unknown" on the surface this year, according to former World No. 8 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Tsonga and Nadal met 14 times on the ATP Tour, with the Spaniard claiming the bragging rights in their rivalry by winning ten meetings. They only faced each other on two occasions on clay, which is Nadal's preferred surface, and he won both times.

Tsonga turned pro three years after Nadal but retired from professional tennis at the 2022 French Open. Nadal, for his part, is still looking to play for the rest of 2024, with many inferences pointing out that this will be the farewell season.

The 22-time Grand Slam champion has been hampered by hip injuries since the start of 2023. He spent 11 months out of action last year because of a hip flexor injury, only to return at the start of this season in Brisbane and suffer a similar fate, but not connected to his initial injury.

Nadal was forced to miss important tournaments like the Australian Open and the Indian Wells, and revealed this week that he was not ready to compete at the "highest level," hence withdrew from the first Masters of 2024.

With the 14-time Roland Garros champion skipping Miami ahead of schedule, he is gearing up to play on clay next month, which has been his most productive part of the season over the years.

But this time, Nadal is an unknown quantity as far as his form and fitness are concerned. In an interview with L'Equipe, Tsonga believes his former rival is not moving as he was in yesteryears on hard courts. And with clay demanding extraordinary endurance, Nadal's back could be against the wall on that surface, too.

"The real unknown is what Rafa is capable of doing on clay. Today, on hard court, we know. From what we’ve seen, we honestly know that he doesn’t move as well, that he’ll never perform as well as he did before."

"On clay today, there’s a real unknown. He had such a margin over the others. Will he be able to hold his own in a tough match today? That’s the real unknown."

The Frenchman also commented on Nadal's ambitions to play in the midst of physical struggles. Tsonga suggested that Nadal is seeking " validation" so that he can exit the stage on his terms even though he has nothing left to prove.

"He’s got nothing left to prove. That’s over. He just wants to reassure himself, to say ‘okay, that’s it, I can go. He’s looking for validation so that he can leave. In truth, he’s been a shadow of his former self for quite a few months now. I think he just wants to prove it to himself, to say to himself now, ‘I’m safe to leave, I’m at peace’."


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