Why did the French Open cancel a farewell ceremony for Rafael Nadal? And why is he unseeded?

The French tennis federation has decided to put off holding a ceremony to celebrate Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros this year

PARIS (AP) — The French tennis federation put off holding a ceremony to celebrate Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros this year, because he has said this might not necessarily be his final appearance at the tournament he has won a record 14 times.

Tournament director Amélie Mauresmo said Sunday, Day 1 of the clay-court Grand Slam event, that Nadal let officials know he didn't want to close the door on a return before he told the world that at a pre-tournament news conference.

“As you can imagine, we had something planned for him. But ... because he doesn’t know if it's going to be his last Roland Garros or not, he wants to leave the door open maybe to come back next year as a player. So we are not going to push him, obviously, to do anything,” Mauresmo said.

“It's his decision when he wants to have a proper ceremony, a proper goodbye, a proper farewell. So we’re not going to do it this year. That’s his wish," she continued. "And even though we were ready to push the button if something happens, we obviously are going to respect what he wants and make sure we are ready whenever he feels he wants to do it. Later this year; next year; anytime he wants.”

Nadal, who turns 38 on June 3 and has said previously he expects this to be his last season, will face No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev in the first round on Monday. The match is scheduled to be third in the main stadium, Court Philippe Chatrier, and could start at around 3:30 p.m. local time (9:30 a.m. EDT).

Here are some answers to questions about Nadal and Zverev:

Why are top players like Nadal and Zverev meeting in the first round?

Despite having such a dominant record at the French Open, Nadal was not seeded and so could have been placed anywhere in the bracket and been stuck playing anyone at all, even the very best opponents. Because of injuries, including a surgically repaired hip and problematic abdominal muscle, Nadal has competed little the past two seasons, going only 7-4 in 2024, and so someone who has been ranked No. 1 and spent more than a decade inside the top 10 is now outside the top 250.

Why isn't Nadal seeded?

This is Nadal's first Grand Slam tournament without a seeding since the 2005 Australian Open. The top 32 players in the men's and women's draws are seeded, and the seedings are based on the ATP and WTA rankings, which take into account the most recent 52 weeks of results. In theory, Mauresmo could have opted to circumvent the rules and go ahead and award a seeding to Nadal based on his past performances in Paris. But that was never really considered, she said, in part because “giving protection to some players” would result in “a lot of other issues and problems,” and because “it also has to be OK with other Grand Slams and everything.”

What difference do seedings make?

Players who are seeded, such as Zverev, are guaranteed to avoid going up against another seeded player any earlier than the third round of a Grand Slam tournament, which have 128-player fields and require seven victories to earn a championship.

What do other players think?

Players tend to agree with Mauresmo's decision, with several saying they believe the seeding system should remain the way it currently is (Wimbledon used to seed players according to their results on grass courts, but has strictly followed the rankings since 2021). “The way that the seedings work, I think it’s appropriate. In this case, it’s unfortunate how that happened, but I don’t know how you gauge where someone should and shouldn’t be seeded based on past or previous success,” said three-time major champion Andy Murray. “It’d be quite hard to do that.”

Who is Alexander Zverev?

He is a leading player in men's tennis, one who is coming off a title on clay at the Italian Open, won a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics and was the 2020 U.S. Open runner-up. He reached the semifinals at the French Open each of the past three years, including in 2022, when he played Nadal at that stage but had to stop after tearing ligaments in his right foot during the match. Zverev, a 27-year-old from Germany, is about to face a court proceeding that starts next week in Berlin related to accusations of physically abusing an ex-girlfriend. He does not need to be in court and said he will not be. "At the end of the day, I do believe in the German system. I do believe in the truth, as well. I have to be certain that, you know, I do know what I did, I do know what I didn't do," Zverev said. "That's, at the end of the day, what's going to come out, and I have to trust in that."

Why is Zverev allowed to play during his ongoing court case?

Mauresmo was asked Sunday about Zverev's status and replied: “As long as the trial isn’t finished and there isn’t a decision, he’s considered innocent and so that’s why he’s allowed to be part of the draw.”

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Howard Fendrich has been the AP's tennis writer since 2002. Find his stories here: https://apnews.com/author/howard-fendrich

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AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis