Rafael Nadal has the answers he needed from Rome – what happens next?

Rafael Nadal has the answers he needed from Rome – what happens next?

Rafael Nadal has stated on numerous occasions that he will only play at the French Open if he feels he will be competitive at Roland Garros – so now he has a big decision to make.

The 14-time French Open winner is edging towards the final match of his career, with the comprehensive 6-1, 6-3 defeat against Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz in the second round of the Italian Open.

“If I was in Paris today, I wouldn’t go out to play,” Nadal told reporters in Madrid last month.

“I’m going to do the things I have to do to be able to play in Paris. And if I can, I can and if I can’t, I can’t.

“I’m going to Paris if I feel like I’m good enough… I’m going to Paris if I feel capable enough to compete.”

Nadal would have been encouraged by his performances at the Madrid Open, where he won three matches and appeared to be getting back to some kind of form.

So the match against Hurkacz was always likely to be the ultimate test for Nadal, as he took on an in-form top ten player who is at home on clay courts.

The early signs were good as Nadal competed impressively with the world No 9, but he threw in too many unforced errors at key moments and that handed Hurkacz all the incentive he needed to push for the finish line.

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“I’m definitely really proud of myself,” said Hurkacz.

“Playing Rafa is something special. It’s just different, especially being on clay, the surface that he has just dominated over the past 20 years. No one will ever have a record like him on this surface.

“He’s just bigger than the sport at the end of the day. So many people follow him and he inspired so many guys, so I’m just really happy to have had that experience today.”

Hurkacz was competitive in most Nadal service games and that is where the Spaniard is struggling most.

He is not getting free points on his first serve and every game is a battle for a player who has dominated and intimidated his opponents on clay courts over the past two decades.

The punch he is famous for on his ground shots is also lacking and this comes after he made a vow to try and take his game to the next level against Hurkacz.

Nadal will be unseeded if he decides to play in the French Open and that means he is likely to face one of the game’s big-hitters in the opening couple of rounds.

So the question he now has to ask himself is this: does he still wants to make a farewell appearance at Roland Garros while appreciating he will not be competitive against the game’s top players?

The send-off he was given in Madrid after his gutsy run in that tournament was a memorable moment for a champion who deserves the accolades coming his way.

He will get something similar if he plays at the French Open, but Nadal’s previous comments that he doesn’t want to show up at the second Grand Slam of the year just to make up the numbers in the draw leaves him with a dilemma over the next few days.

The odds are that he will turn up in Paris and hope for a miracle, but the harsh reality is that this version of Nadal  is struggling to compete in best-of-three-set matches.

So how can expect to flick the switch and beat the best over the longer five-set format?

This was Nadal’s verdict on that dilemma in his press conference in Rome:

“Now there are two ways,” he reflected.

“Probably one is to say, Okay, I am not ready, I am not playing enough well. Then is the moment to take a decision in terms of not playing Roland Garros.

“Another is accept how I am today and work the proper way to try to be in a different way in two weeks.

“The decision, as you can imagine, is not clear in my mind today. But if I have to say what’s my feeling and if my mind is closer one way or the other way, I going to say be in Roland Garros and try my best.”

None of us want Nadal’s glorious career to end, but the only conclusion that can be taken from his Italian Open defeat against Hurkacz is that his hopes of getting back to anywhere near his best are forlorn.

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