Tennis: French Open fans get behind 'super hero' Nadal

AFP , Monday 27 May 2024

From Australia, China and the United States, Rafael Nadal fans descended on a chilly and damp Roland Garros on Monday, hoping to inspire their "super hero" to victory at the French Open.

Rafael Nadal
Spain s Rafael Nadal reacts as he plays against Germany s Alexander Zverev during their men s singles match on Court Philippe-Chatrier on day two of The French Open tennis tournament at The Roland Garros Complex in Paris on May 27, 2024. AFP

 

Nadal, the record 14-time champion, was taking on Alexander Zverev in a tough first round encounter for a player whose career twilight has been stalled by injury.

His army of fans hope that whatever happens on the Philippe Chatrier Court, which the Spanish star has dominated for the best part of 20 years, he will remain true to his word and not retire despite his 38th birthday fast approaching.

"You always have to keep the faith in Rafa, he will win," Hazel, a 28-year-old fan who had flown in from China for a second straight year after being left disappointed when Nadal withdrew in 2023, told AFP.

"The most important thing is that he stays healthy," she says, as she proudly showed the banners she had made with the colours of Spain, Nadal's face and the message "Welcome back my super hero".

Nadal has only lost three times in 115 matches at the tournament since his title-winning debut as a 19-year-old in 2005.

He said at the weekend that there was a chance this may be his last French Open but insisted he was still keeping the door "100% open" on continuing his career.

"You see a lot of 'Thank you Rafa' shirts. He's a monument at this tournament," said 41-year-old Manolo who has come to Europe from the United States to watch Nadal and then Real Madrid play in the Champions League final in London this Saturday.

He has seen Nadal win at Wimbledon and the US Open as well as Paris but admits Monday's clash with world number four Zverev "will be very difficult".

"I hope he beats Zverev... Rafa is Rafa," he said.

"It's possibly the last time he plays here, so we're very happy to watch him," said Alsi, a 40-year-old fan living in Australia.

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