RAFAEL NADAL’S record-breaking French Open career came to its likely end on Monday when the 14-time champion slumped to a demoralising first round defeat against Alexander Zverev before he admitted: “I really hope to see you again -- but I don’t know.”

Nadal, who turns 38 on June 3, went down 6-3, 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 to world number four Zverev, suffering only his fourth loss in 116 matches at Roland Garros since his 2005 title-winning debut.

It was the first time he had been defeated in Paris in the opening round and will again lead to questions over his long-term future in the sport.

“It is difficult for me to talk, I don’t know if it’s the last time I’ll be here in front of all of you,“ he said.

“Honestly, I am not sure. If it is, then you have been amazing. The feelings I have today are difficult to describe in words. It is the place I love the most.”

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He added: “It’s hard to say about the future. I am travelling with my family and I am having fun. The body is feeling better than it did two months ago.

“Maybe in two months I say it’s enough. That is something I don’t feel yet.”

Nadal may not return for the 2025 French Open but he still plans to play the Olympics in the city in July.

“I hope to be back here for the Olympics, that motivates me. I really hope to be well prepared,“ he said to loud cheers.

Plagued by injuries, which had limited him to just four events since January last year, former world number one Nadal is now 275 in the rankings and was unseeded in Paris.

However, he insisted on the eve of the tournament that he was “100% keeping the door open” on his future in a sport which has brought him 22 Grand Slam titles.

- 'Thank you Rafa' -

“I don’t know what to say. Thank you Rafa from all of the tennis world. It is such a great honour,“ said Zverev.

“I’ve watched Rafa play all my childhood and I was lucky enough to play him two times on this beautiful court. Today is not my moment, it is Rafa’s moment.”

In a repeat of the 2022 semi-final, which Nadal won when Zverev quit with ankle ligament damage, the Spaniard had his chances.

He was a break of serve up in the second and third sets, only to be pinned back on both occasions by his in-form 27-year-old opponent.

However, a relentless Zverev broke six times from 18 opportunities and fired 44 winners to Nadal's 34.

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Chants of “Rafa, Rafa” had loudly echoed under the roof of Court Philippe Chatrier which was shut tight against the torrential rain sweeping across the grounds and bringing havoc to the schedule.

They subsided to silence when Nadal was broken to love in his opening service game and he was left to regret his inability to convert two break points in the fourth game.

Nadal saved two set points in the ninth game but surrendered the opener after 50 minutes when he buried a loose forehand into the net.

It was only the fourth opening set he had lost at Roland Garros.

Nadal broke for the first time in the match to lead 3-2 in the second set but couldn't back up the advantage and handed the break back to three-time semi-finalist Zverev as he served for the set.

- 'Beautiful process' -

A tense tie-breaker followed which the German claimed, buoyed by stretching to 5/3 on the back of a gruelling 19-shot rally.

Nadal dug deep and with the likes of Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz and Iga Swiatek having watched from the packed stands, he broke and held for 2-0 in the third set.

However, Zverev again roared back to level at 2-2 before a besieged Nadal had to save four break points in a 13-minute fifth game to stay in contention.

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The effort was too much and a composed Zverev was soon 4-3 up and the match was over when Nadal fired a forehand wide and long.

“The amount of feelings I had on this court throughout my career, I didn’t think I would be here almost 38 with all of the success. It has been a very beautiful process,“ said Nadal before he left to a standing ovation.