“If he comes back and wins, he won’t say goodbye to tennis”

Rafael Nadal underwent surgery for a psoas iliacus injury with the intention of returning to his best form, playing in 2024 and saying goodbye to professional tennis. But the story can be different, believes one of his great friends on the tour, the now retired Juan Mónaco: If Nadal returns to play, it is to win. And if he wins, forget about him retiring in 2024.

“The limit is set by him. I know him a lot and I think that if he prepares to come back, he prepares to win, he does not prepare to make the quarterfinals. If he comes back and wins, he does not say goodbye to tennis,” said the Argentine Monaco, world number ten in July 2012, during an interview with CLAY.

Juan Monaco, 39, now lives in Miami and runs a tennis representation agency, Total Sport, but is still very much involved in the day-to-day running of tennis. The friendship that unites him with Nadal is strong, and it enables the Argentine to explain things that have not been heard so far about the steps that the Spaniard has taken and will take. Also to explain why, despite his titles, Novak Djokovic is a lesser entity to Nadal and Roger Federer.

Interview with John Monaco

– Will Nadal return to tennis?
– That is my wish as a friend. For the benefit of tennis and for the benefit of him who is doing everything to return. I want him to come back, yes, but I also have another wish as a friend, that Rafa can live in peace, without so much pressure to come back with so much pain. He made a big effort to try to come back after Australia and every time he strained his leg it bothered him a lot. Until he had to make the decision to have surgery. And it’s a complicated operation, because he’s doing it to be able to walk calmly tomorrow. Whether he can play tennis again will depend on how much he will give.

– How much pain is he in?
– I know how much pain he is in, I know that for the last five years he has lived with a lot of pain.

– How is it possible that he has competed and won with so much pain, how do you explain what he did at Roland Garros 2022?
– I have said for five years that he wants to play one more year and then retire. And I know him a lot, and every time I think about it, I actually think he’s retiring. But he has a mental strength and a desire to compete that only he feeds, because his whole inner circle says ‘well, I think this is the last year, this is the last year’. But no, he has a belief that he can do anything and he won’t stop. And I think not being able to play this last Roland Garros and having surgery opens a mental possibility for him to play again. Because if he had competed badly and lost, he would never have played again.

– So… this operation, these steps he took, is for…?
– To play Roland Garros again.

– Nadal said he will say goodbye in 2024, but if he does, it is to compete and win, or not?
– I think if he decides to return to train hard to return to the tour, it is to win. If he doesn’t, he won’t come back.

– And if he wins, does he say goodbye?
– I do not think!

– So he’s still playing in 2025…
– I don’t think so, I honestly don’t think so (he says goodbye). He will set the limit for himself. I know him a lot and I think if he is preparing to come back, he is preparing to win, he is not preparing to be in the quarter-finals. He has a very high standard. I think he has not played Roland Garros because he has seen during training that he was not ready to win Roland Garros, even if he could have played it.

Rafael Nadal and Juan Monaco during the 2011 Davis Cup final.

– The Grand Slam title number 23 of Djokovic is an additional motivation for Nadal?
– I don’t think so, no. I think he stopped fighting for it a while ago. He is very happy with what he has. Obviously, if Djokovic keeps winning trophies and Grand Slams, he could be the greatest in history, but there is something undeniable, which is the way Rafa and Roger changed tennis. They will always have a much bigger place reserved in the hearts of tennis fans than Djokovic. No disrespect to Djokovic, who may be the biggest in titles, but the love for Rafa and Roger is much stronger than the love that Djokovic generated.

– Recently Djokovic said he wanted to be friends with Federer and Nadal and couldn’t be, is there a distance between them that is explained in something that is not tennis?
– There is no doubt that it has no tennis explanation, because Djokovic is going to win more than them. But there is a distance in what Rafa and Roger generate, in the love of the fans.

– I go back to Nadal and the year 2024. If he comes back well and wins, he will think, why should he retire?
– Of course! If he prepares to come back, he comes back to win, not to see what happens.

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