Roland Garros

After a year and a half, Carreño dreams of feeling like a tennis player again

The Spaniard returns to Roland Garros after a year and a half injured

May 26, 2024

Getty Images

Pablo Carreño Busta, in a match at Roland Garros.
By Rafael Plaza

Pablo Carreño returns to competition in a big way: at Roland Garros. The Spaniard, who has been away from the competition for almost a year and a half as a result of an injury to his right elbow, will debut this Monday against Mariano Navone with a goal that might seem simple, but is quite a feat in his situation: feel like a tennis player again.

Carreño, winner of the ATP Masters 1000 in Canada (2022), bronze medalist at the Tokyo Olympics and former world No. 10, among many other achievements, tried to return at the Alicante and Malaga Challengers, at the end of 2023. Given who felt pain again, since he came back with bad sensations, he decided to have surgery to try to remedy a nightmare that could come to an end in Paris.

Before its premiere, the Gijon native sat down with in Paris to review the ordeal he has faced in the last 18 months.

Can you summarize everything that has happened to you in the last year and a half?

It was close to the top 10 of the year. I think I finished 11th because Rune won in Paris, and he passed me. That means it was surely the best season of my career, having won a Masters 1000 in Canada. In November, in the Davis Cup, my elbow started to bother me. The doctor from the Spanish federation looked at me and told me that it was tendinitis, that I should be careful because he had to take care of it. Then I had planned to rest because the year was ending and the preseason was coming. I thought I would recover. We started treatment and it went well, but then something else happened to me in Australia. I stopped again and when I started my elbow was bothering me again. I stopped again. I was going to start and I broke fibers in my forearm and then my elbow was bothering me a lot. A series of things were happening that I didn’t expect, obviously. After Davis, I didn’t think this was so important and I believed that I would arrive perfect at the start of the new season in Australia. It has been getting longer and longer and…

And he returns after a year and a half without playing.

I played two Challengers last October to start. I was fine, with good feelings. I had undergone stem cell treatment. I played the first tournament and lost in the first round to Pedro Martínez, but without elbow problems. When I went to Malaga to play the other Challenger, it started to bother me in a previous training session. I took anti-inflammatories. I won the first game, although my feelings were not good. And in the second I felt great pain again, with my elbow swollen. And we decided to operate. Stop playing tennis… it has been six weeks after the operation. Then I have always been holding the racket. Playing more or less, softer or harder, but without competing for a long time.

Isn’t it too much to return to Roland Garros?

Because of how my recovery was going, I had never set an exact date for myself. The idea was to start playing a smaller tournament, like a Challenger or a preview of an ATP 250, to get going. In the end, it’s not just the elbow, we also have to think about the rest of my body after so long without competing. My idea was to start two weeks before Roland Garros, in a Challenger. I had asked for the invitation and had everything prepared. On Wednesday of the previous week I noticed pain again. I went to see the doctor, he gave me an MRI and he told me that it was nothing serious, that he had a small muscle edema as a result of having gone a little overboard with the loads in one of my training sessions. I had to lower the intensity of the serve because I have been training the rest of the shots hard for almost a month. In short, I couldn’t go play that Challenger. This week I have trained well and now Roland Garros is coming. I have been registered here with Protected Ranking for six weeks and I cannot play another tournament. And honestly, I don’t want to wait any longer.

You might also be interested in: Moyà and Nadal’s messy puzzle

How many doctors have you seen in this time?

I have spoken to some. With [Ángel] Parrot, obviously. With Dr. Antuña, who is the doctor who operated on me in Madrid. And with Yasser, who is a physiotherapist from Valencia specializing in elbow recoveries. They set the guidelines for me a little, and they help me. Then I have been seeing examples of other players: Tommy Robredo had elbow surgery, and also Pablo Andújar. I have talked with them. Sometimes, I don’t know if they’ve told me the whole truth so as not to sink (laughs). It has helped me to see the feelings they were having.

Have you disconnected from tennis?

Especially at the beginning. When I was injured and I saw that I wasn’t getting better, it took a lot of time mentally. Carlos’s final [Alcaraz] I did see it from Wimbledon, of course. But following the circuit or looking at the results is something I haven’t done. I have been constantly talking with friends like Roberto Carballés or Pedro Martínez, but I was not that involved. When I saw the light a little, and I had to think about my return schedule, it motivated me and I got hooked again. And then it hurt again and I had to stop… it’s like the world is crashing down on you again.

And what have you done with so much free time? It is not usual for an elite tennis player…

I’ve had a lot of time, but I haven’t… I’ve continued playing and training. In the end, it is not the same as someone who has retired and has a lot of free time. I was at home, but very focused on recovering, which is what I wanted. I have focused a lot on doing what I had to do: going to the physio at whatever time, training… I have also had time to do things with my wife: go to Madrid, watch Aladdin, some Playstation, although not much of the latter.

Have you sought help from a psychologist?

What has happened to me is complicated, but I have not worked with anyone external. The one who is with me the longest is my wife, and she is the one who has put up with me the most. Obviously, she notices right away if the training has gone well or poorly. Humor, even if you want to hide it, always comes out. Especially someone who knows me as much as she does. The same thing happens with Samu. [López]my coach, with my family.

Did you think it was the end?

Yes, I have thought about it. I don’t know if I really thought about it, or out of pure anger because things weren’t working out for me. In the end, I hoped that wasn’t the case. I think about it, but I don’t really want to.

If you had to finish, is your career better than you had dreamed?

Clear. I went to Barcelona when I was 15 years old. It is when I think that I am going to play tennis to be a professional, something that I had not considered until that moment. I didn’t imagine I was going to get all these things.

So, is the goal to play again or try to get back on the train car you were on when it should have stopped?

That is my intention, from what the doctors tell me. The first thing is to get back on track. And once I get back on the track, we’ll see how I am. That I’m not able to play three games in a row without pain? I’ll consider things. That I am capable of playing without pain even if I don’t win? I’m going to give it a little time because I’ve been stopped for a long time. In training I don’t look so bad. Logically, I’m missing things: rhythm, automatisms, movements, the first movements… these are things that the competition is going to give me.

What do you expect from your first round at Roland Garros?

Winning, but realistically I see it as very complicated. On the sidelines, I got a player [Mariano Navone] who has been having a spectacular year on clay. It’s still good for me because it will give me a lot of rhythm. The result is going to be more anecdotal than anything else right now. Today, my intention is to play, get into the groove, gain sensations, routines and feel like a tennis player again.


Leave a Reply