(Brisbane) A few hours before his return to competition in Brisbane, Rafael Nadal admitted on Sunday to having considered retirement after a hip injury, but now leaves the door ajar to a continuation of his career after 2024.

At a press conference, the Spaniard made no secret of the doubts that plagued him during almost a year of absence, weighed down by two operations on the iliopsoas (muscle which connects the upper and lower body), after being injured at the Australian Open on January 18, 2023.

“If I thought about retirement during this time? Of course yes,” he admitted, adding: “Does it make sense to do all this at 37, knowing that there is a possibility that I won’t come back in the same way? that I want to come back to? »

It will take time and patience to know the answer. “I am aware that things are not going to go well, that it is almost impossible for them to go well” in Brisbane, “I am not seeded, I am the age I am” , he told El Pais.

As if to moderate the expectations of his supporters, he clarified that his real objective was no longer at the Australian Open, from January 14, but in Paris on clay in the spring.

In the meantime, after 347 days of absence, Nadal finally played again this weekend. Partnered with compatriot and coach Marc Lopez, he lost in doubles 6-4, 6-4 to the Australian pair of Jordan Thompson and Max Purcell, but appeared sharp and mobile on court.

The real comeback will be Tuesday, in singles, against an old acquaintance, Dominic Thiem. The Austrian, who is also attempting a return to the high level, was his victim twice in the Roland-Garros finals. It was in 2018 and 2019 and like almost every time on clay, Nadal was untouchable, as evidenced by his 14 titles gleaned in Paris.

Major coronations, the Majorcan collected 22, second best total among men behind the record established by Novak Djokovic. The Serbian overtook him in 2023 while he was going through a convalescence generating immense doubt as to the continuation of his immense career.

Two weeks before the Australian Open, the stakes are obviously different for the two survivors of the “Big 3” since Roger Federer hung up his rackets.

The Serbian, world No.1, defending champion in Melbourne, will aim for an 11th trophy in Melbourne to continue to subdue the young rising guard played by Carlos Alcaraz. Down to 672nd place, the Mallorcan first wants to see his body, bruised by injuries in 22 years spent on the courts, hold up and enjoy the pleasure of playing again.

However, because it is Rafael Nadal, the fierce desire to be competitive drives him: “I had to go through a lot to be back. At some point I decided to continue. I had the determination to continue. »

Now that he feels “good”, “happy with the way [he is] training”, “Rafa” does not exclude that history continues to be written beyond 2024, after having yet announced that the season which opens would probably be one of one last dance.

“The problem when I say this will be my last season is that I can’t predict 100% what will happen in the future,” he explained. “Obviously the percentage [chance] is high that this will be the last time I play here in Australia […] But if I’m here next year, don’t tell me, ‘You said it would be your last season”, because I didn’t say it. »

Behind this smile betraying a gluttony found in the ogre of ocher, hides a big question mark over his ability to repeat the efforts of which we know he is capable of toppling mountains.

“I cannot predict how I will be in the next six months, if my body will allow me to enjoy tennis as much as in the last twenty years, to be competitive,” Nadal confessed.

“I want to feel like I can step on the court and compete with anyone. It doesn’t matter in the end if I won or lost, as long as I got that feeling back…”