Even as He’s Out, Rafael Nadal Will Always Be a Part of the French Open

The younger set looks like the slightly better bet. Carlos Alcaraz, 20, is back at No. 1 and already a Grand Slam champion after winning last year’s U.S. Open. Holger Rune, 20 as well, beat Djokovic in Rome this week and has elastic limbs of his own. You can add Stefanos Tsitsipas, Casper Ruud, Jannik Sinner or even Daniil Medvedev, formerly allergic to clay, to the short list without ruling out a bigger surprise.

Nadal, absent from the draw for the first time nearly two decades, said he won’t watch it all from afar, but he will be keeping tabs.

Last year, he drew some criticism from pro-Djokovic quarters for emphasizing that no tournament is bigger than any single player when Djokovic missed the 2022 Australian Open after arriving in Melbourne unvaccinated for the coronavirus and was deported.

“The Australian Open will be great Australian Open with or without him,” Nadal said before winning it himself.

But he was clearly eager to be consistent on Thursday.

“My speech is not going to change,” he said. “Roland Garros will be always Roland Garros with or without me without a doubt.”

He continued: “Players stay for a while, and they leave. Tournaments stay forever.”

That is true and will seem truer still when some other man with red-stained socks is crowned champion next month in Paris. But there can also be no doubt that Nadal and Roland Garros will be linked as long as there is a Roland Garros.

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