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Analysis: All we know about Rafael Nadal’s future is that we really know nothing at all

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PARIS (AP) — Let’s get this part out of the way: Rafael Nadal did not announce his retirement after exiting the French Open in the first round.

Nothing else, though, is entirely clear about what comes next for the owner of 22 Grand Slam titles. He turns 38 in a week and has been dealing with injuries for quite some time.

“I don’t know,” Nadal acknowledged, “what’s going to happen in the next few months.”

He probably won’t be back at the tournament where he’s collected a record 14 trophies, but write that in pencil, because he would not completely rule out the possibility in the days leading up to, or the moments immediately following, the 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3 loss to Alexander Zverev at Roland Garros on Monday that gave the Spaniard the first losing streak of his career on clay courts.

He probably won’t enter Wimbledon, because it just doesn’t seem like a good idea to switch to grass right now, although he would not completely rule that out, either.

As for the Paris Olympics, which will hold the tennis competition at Roland Garros starting in two months? He probably will be there, but — hey, here’s a twist — he wouldn’t completely commit to that.

So in sum, all we really know about what the future holds for Nadal is that we don’t really know a thing about what the future holds for him. Which, of course, is OK, because he is allowed to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, however he wants.

“Obviously,” Zverev observed, “there are uncertainties.”

Obviously.

“That’s why I am not saying I am retiring today,” said Nadal, whose 1 1/2-year-old child, Rafael Jr., sat on his mother’s lap at Court Philippe Chatrier on Monday. “In terms of what’s driving me … I’m a simple guy. I enjoy what I do. I am passionate about sport, I am passionate about competition. I like to practice, I like to play tennis. I’m in a different moment of my personal life, too, traveling with my son, wife. I am enjoying these moments that will not come back.”

So, basically, why force himself to stop? Why not try to see how much more his body can take?

Why not hope to stay out there, doing what he’s done so well for so long, and maybe just give himself and his family — particularly his kid, still too young to remember what is happening yet — some memories to hold onto one day?

“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,” Nadal explained. “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 … to see if my level is growing and my body is holding, and then let’s make a decision.”

Makes perfect sense.

Especially considering what both opponents took away from this latest performance, which was hardly up to Nadal’s career-long standards but did include the occasional patch of play that might have been good enough to get past a lesser obstacle than Zverev.

The 27-year-old German is, after all, ranked No. 4, was the runner-up at the U.S. Open four years ago and the gold medalist at the Tokyo Olympics three years ago. Plus, he is coming off a clay title at the Italian Open and has been a semifinalist at Roland Garros each of the past three years.

“I mean, I was not that far,” Nadal said. “That’s my feeling.”

Zverev’s assessment: “If he stays healthy, he’s going to continue playing better.”

Nadal sounded as though he agreed with that. He also asked for some time to make up his mind.

“Give me two months ‘til the Olympics, and then let’s see if I am able to keep going or I say, ’OK, guys, it’s more than enough.’ Let’s see,” Nadal said Monday evening, after only his fourth loss in 116 French Open matches. “I mean, today is not a moment to analyze all these kind of things.”

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Howard Fendrich has been the AP’s tennis writer since 2002. Find his stories at https://apnews.com/author/howard-fendrich and write to him at hfendrich@ap.org

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AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis

By HOWARD FENDRICH
AP Tennis Writer

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