Rafael Nadal has heaped praise on Serena Williams in a beautiful tribute to the retiring American champion.
Speaking ahead of this week’s Cincinnati Masters, Nadal remarked on Williams’ impending retirement by hailing the 23-time grand slam champion as “one of the greatest of all time”.
Williams last week left the tennis world devastated after confirming in an article written for Vogue magazine that she will call time on her tennis career after the US Open.
The American trails only Margaret Court for the all-time record of 24 grand slam titles, with her chance of equalling the Aussie great in her farewell appearance at Flushing Meadows appearing slim.
Both Williams and Nadal are set to play at this week’s Cincinnati Masters, where the American will face incumbent US Open champion Emma Raducanu in the first round.
Nadal – who will mark his return from an abdominal injury in Cincinnati – took the opportunity to celebrate Williams’ career with a classy tribute to the 40-year-old.
“She is one of the greatest sports [people] of all time,” he stated. “I feel lucky to share a tour for a long period of time with her.
“Of course, from a selfish point of view, it’s sad that she’s leaving the tour but, on the other hand, we can’t thank her enough for all the things that she did for our sport.
“I think she’s an amazing inspiration for a lot of people around the world and I think she deserves to choose whatever works for her better at this stage of her life.
“So I wish her all the best. Hopefully, we can keep seeing her around the tour because I always believe that our sport, or the sport in general, is bigger and better when legends are around and she is a legend.
“Hopefully, we can enjoy her in a different way around the tour.”
Nadal was forced to withdraw ahead of the Wimbledon semi-finals earlier this year with an abdominal tear, and now faces a potentially nervy run through to the US Open in terms of fitness.
Rafael Nadal optimistic over injury issues
The 36-year-old says he is cautiously optimistic, however, as his preparations ramp up for a challenge at a 23rd grand slam title at Flushing Meadows.
“I hope to be ready. That’s what I’m trying to do. Try to be a little more conservative, but I hope I can be ready to play.
“Of course, I need some more days to analyse how things are going in terms of abdominal feeling.
“But things are going well for the moment, so hopefully I can manage to be ready. I’m excited. I want to play tennis again on the tour. I’m having a good season, I’m enjoying it, so I want to enjoy this week in Cincinnati.”
Meantime, Raducanu says she is relishing the privilege of being afforded one of the final opportunities to face Williams on court, after being drawn to face the American legend on Monday night in Cincinnati.
“I think it’s gonna be an exciting match. I’m looking forward to it. It’s an amazing opportunity to play probably the best the best tennis player of all time. It’s probably going to be my last opportunity to ever play her,” she said.
“I think that, for our careers to have crossed over, I think I’m really fortunate that I get to play her. Whatever happens, I think it’s gonna be a really good experience for me and something that I will remember for the rest of my life.”