Rafael Nadal's coach on early morale blow, Spaniard's level, next plans & retirement

Coach Carlos Moya addresses Nadal's return and his upcoming plans.

by Dzevad Mesic
Rafael Nadal's coach on early morale blow, Spaniard's level, next plans & retirement
© Getty Images Sport - Bradley Kanaris

Coach Carlos Moya confirmed Rafael Nadal's team instantly knew the Spaniard very likely avoided a serious injury in Brisbane but admitted that it was "a strong moral blow" to be forced to skip the Australian Open. 

After not playing for 12 months and undergoing hip surgery, Nadal's comeback started in the first week of 2024 at the Brisbane International. In Brisbane, Nadal started with two routine straight-set wins before losing to Jordan Thompson in the quarterfinal match, in a match in which he was hampered by a leg injury. 

After requiring a medical timeout against Thompson and ultimately losing the match, Nadal flew to Melbourne to meet with the doctors. When the results of his MRI scans returned, Nadal learned that he was dealing with "microtear" in his muscle. While it was listed as a minor injury, it was still something that forced Nadal out of the Australian Open. 

“I knew it wasn't the same, because he doesn't react the same as last year. There he immediately saw that there was a very big limitation. In this case it was not the same. He was able to compete. A serious injury prevents you from doing what he was able to do against Thompson," Moya told Punto de Break. 

"Of course, you never know because we had already had problems in the past that seemed like it was going to be nothing and then it was a couple of months. A break at these levels is 3-4 weeks and in this case, we have been lucky that it has not gone further. 

"This happens in sport, but it is true that the moral blow has been strong because he seemed prepared and problems from the past come back to you again.”

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal© Getty Images Sport - Chris Hyde

Moya gives his verdict on Nadal's Brisbane return

Going into Nadal's first tournament back, many were curious to see how the 22-time Grand Slam champion would look in his return following a long absence. In his very first match back, Nadal ousted 2020 US Open champion Dominic 7-5 6-1. After Nadal also destroyed Jason Kubler 6-1 6-2, the expectations and hype surrounding Nadal were starting to increase. 

Just when it started to seem very possible that Nadal would kick off his comeback with a title, Nadal sustained an injury and lost in the quarterfinal. Assessing Nadal's performance in Brisbane, Moya suggested it was positive but highlighted there are still some questions that need to be answered. 

"He won the first two matches well and almost beat a player who almost beat Tsitsipas in Australia the following week. That is, of a high level.” Moya reflected.

“I think that, after one match, I have no doubts about the level that Rafa can offer. What is missing is knowing what would happen if one day you play against a top (player), win and play another tomorrow. He has not yet experienced that rhythm of competition and we are missing that. I said he would need about 10 matches to get to that 100% level.”

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal© Getty Images Sport - Bradley Kanaris

Moya on Nadal picking Doha, potentially playing beyond 2024

During the Australian Open, it was announced that Nadal would play again at the Qatar Open in Doha, which starts on February 19th. Considering that Nadal's big goal remains being at his best when the time comes for the clay season, some were surprised that the Spaniard didn't opt to play during the Golden Swing in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro instead. 

Addressing that decision, coach Moya noted that playing on clay in February and then returning to hard in March probably wouldn't be the smart thing to do for Nadal considering his recent injury history. Instead, Nadal plans to hit the clay only when the clay season starts in April. 

“Surface changes are not easy. While it is true that clay should be better for your joints, going from fast to clay, to go back to the US and then back to clay, we thought it was a bit excessive. That's why we chose to make this calendar, without so much change of surface," Moya explained.

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal© Getty Images Sport - Ian Walton

In Brisbane, Nadal said the 2024 season will "probably" be his last in pro tennis but underlined that he wasn't closing the doors on playing beyond 2024 because he would not want to be called a liar if he returned to tennis next year. In his message from Brisbane, Nadal also suggested that it wouldn't make sense for him to retire if he was playing well, feeling healthy, and enjoying himself on the court. 

While the chances of Nadal continuing to play beyond 2024 maybe got negatively impacted by the Spaniard's early injury, Moya isn't ruling anything out. 

"Yes, why not? He has also said it himself in other interviews. He has earned the right to decide how, where and when he wants to retire. Despite his situation, which has changed by having a child, he wants to continue competing in this way," Moya said.

When Nadal returns to action in Doha, there is no doubt that one of his biggest priorities will be to feel well and avoid any setbacks that week.

Rafael Nadal Carlos Moya