Rafa Nadal sensationally withdrew from Wimbledon tonight due to injury – just hours before he was due to face Australia’s Nick Kyrgios in the semi-finals on Centre Court.
The 36-year-old Nadal has suffered with a foot condition for most of his career and has had to manage that pain and reality. But during his epic five-set quarter-final win over Taylor Fritz on Wednesday evening the Spaniard, a winner of a record 22 grand slam singles titles, suffered a 7mm tear in an abdominal muscle that required him to take a medical break in the second set.
Nadal, who was bidding for a third Wimbledon title, expressed his serious concerns in the post-match press conference after the Fritz victory – and would not guarantee that he would be on the starting line for the highly anticipated clash with Kyrgios. There had previously been bad blood between the pair, and there was huge interest in the Australian’s first ever slam semi-final appearance against one of the legends of the sport.
But instead there is the bitter-sweet reality for the 27-year-old Kyrgios of a bye through to a first Wimbledon final, and first showpiece at any of the majors. Kyrgios, whose form on grass has been the best of his career in recent weeks both before and at Wimbledon, was favourite with the bookies to win the match anyway, just as he beat Nadal on Centre Court eight years ago.,
But this is the last way he would have wanted to do it, to be in Sunday’s final, and to be certain of picking up at least the runner’s-up cheque for £1million – with an even better chance of the title Kyrgios always believed was the one he had the best chance of winning.
Nadal was late for his initial practice early on Thursday afternoon, and when he did turn up later on there was a light practice at which it appeared that though he could hit forehands and backhands, serving at anywhere near full power was a real problem, with adjustments he was having to make to protect the injury affecting the actual delivery.
In a hastily arranged press conference on Thursday night, Nadal said: “I have had to pull out of the tournament. As everybody saw yesterday [Wed] I was suffering with pain in the abdominal area – and that is confirmed, there is a tear in the muscle. I knew something was not okay there.
“The communication is too late, I was thinking during the whole day the decision to make. It doesn’t make sense to go. Even if I did it many times in my career to keep going, tough circumstances, it is obvious if I keep going the injury will be worse and worse. I feel very sad to say that.
“I believe I cannot win two matches under these circumstances, I cannot serve. It is not only I cannot serve at the right speed, I cannot do the normal movement to serve. I don’t want to go out there and not be competitive. To be at this level to play to achieve my goal, there is a big chance to make things much worse.”
It was confirmed that Fritz would not be a ‘lucky loser’ and brought back into the tournament despite his defeat to Nadal – and that it would be Kyrios that moved straight through to the final.
Nadal had already won the Australian and French Open titles this calendar year and had been hoping to make it three in a row – and keep alive the chance of pulling off a men’s calendar grand slam that has not been done since Rod Laver more than 50 years ago.
Nadal added: “Being honest, a couple of weeks ago I saw my career very difficult because of the foot injury. Now that the things are better in that case. That's the most dangerous thing that can today stop my tennis career, thinking that the things are going better in that way without a doubt.
“As I always said, for me the most important thing is happiness more than any title, even if everybody knows how much effort I put to be here. But I can't risk that match and stay two, three months outside of the competition because that's going to be a tough thing for me.
“If that happens, happens, but not because I was not doing the things the proper way. That's my decision and I have to live with that. I can't say another thing. I am very sad and have been a very tough one.
“Australia was not an issue. I didn't have many problems during the tournament. But I came back from long period time of injury. Roland Garros was very demanding, mentally especially and physically. But after that, things were going better. As I said, after how tough was Roland Garros, just the fact that I was here shows how important is this tournament for me and how much I wanted to play here.
“I did all the things the best way possible to give myself a chance here. I got to the semi-finals, so I'm playing very well the last couple of days. Especially yesterday, at the beginning of the match, playing at a very, very high level. Even that makes me feel little bit worse because I felt that playing at the level that I was playing, probably I will have a chance.”