Nadal takes 'toughest decision' by pulling out of Wimbledon defence
RAFAEL Nadal admitted defeat last night in his bid to regain fitness in time to defend his Wimbledon title. The 2008 champion, who had been seeded No1 this year, announced just after 7pm that he had pulled out.
Nadal, whose last game was his defeat in the French Open, has been suffering from tendinitis in both knees. He said he would do everything in his power to be ready for Wimbledon, and he made every effort, practising with Andy Murray on Wednesday and also playing exhibition matches against Lleyton Hewitt and Stanislas Wawrinka. But he also said he would only open his defence if he was 100 per cent fit. As the week wore on, it became clear he was losing his race against time, and one medical expert after another suggested he risked inflicting longer-term damage on himself if he played at Wimbledon.
At 23 the Spaniard could have a decade or more left at the top if he remains in one piece. Taking this current injury seriously gives him a better chance of doing so, though his style of play is so physically demanding that there is already a risk he will have chronic problems from now on.
Speaking at the All England Club, Nadal said his knee problems had been going on "for some months". He added: "To not play Wimbledon is one of the toughest decisions of my career. I have done everything possible to be here. I'm better than I was two weeks ago, but I'm not ready. I don't want to go out on court with the feeling that I don't know if I'm prepared to compete properly. I'm going to try to get better as soon as possible.
"Today was the last test and although I didn't feel terrible I was not close to my best. When I enter a tournament like Wimbledon I want to try to win, but my feeling right now is that I am not ready to win. Now I am going to be out for some time but I don't know how long. I arrived at one of the most important moments in the year in my worst condition. One of the big problems now is that when I am playing, I am thinking more about the knees than the game. It is difficult to play like this."
Nadal becomes only the second men's champion of the open era to fail to open the defence of his title because of injury. Shoulder damage prevented Goran Ivanisevic from defending his 2001 title. John Newcombe and Stan Smith were prevented from defending their titles by tennis politics. In 1972 Newcombe was denied the chance to go for a third title as he had signed for a rival tour, and in the following year Smith was ruled out by a players' boycott.
The withdrawal of the No1 seed leaves the men's singles looking a very different place. Scotland's Andy Murray, the No3 seed, was placed in the same half as Nadal when the draw was made yesterday, meaning he was scheduled to meet his Spanish rival in the semi-finals. Now, Murray will be seeded to reach the final, where he is due to meet five-time champion Roger Federer, the No2 seed.
Federer will regain his world No1 ranking from Nadal if he wins a sixth title in 15 days' time. When asked earlier in the week to look ahead to the latter stages of the tournament, Murray consistently insisted that he would not be thinking further ahead than his first-round meeting. Yesterday's draw paired him with Robert Kendrick of the United States, the world No76. The 29-year-old from California, who finished in the top 100 in the world last year for the first time, has played at Wimbledon three times but only won a single match. In 2006 he served 32 aces and led two sets to love against Nadal in the second round before being beaten.
It was not immediately clear after Nadal's withdrawal, however, whether Murray could still expect to be on the opposite side of the net to Kendrick when play begins on Monday. The Wimbledon referees' office had said earlier in the week that the draw would undergo "modification" if Nadal pulled out before the Order of Play is issued at lunchtime tomorrow.
A spokesperson for the referees said that meant Federer would move up to be No1 seed and Murray to No2. But there was no statement about whether those two would simply be given new seeding numbers and remain where they were in the draw, or whether Federer as the new top seed would take Nadal's place as the first name in the draw, and Murray as second seed move into the Swiss player's slot at the bottom. Arnaud Clement of France, who had been due to play Nadal, can expect to meet a new opponent on Monday. If Nadal had not pulled out until after the Order of Play was issued, Clement would have been given a bye into the second round. If Federer stays where he is in the draw he will meet Yen–Hsun Lu of Taipei in the first round.
Following news of Nadal's withdrawal, Ladbrokes cut Murray's odds to win the title from 2/1 to 7/4. Federer is the odds-on favourite at 8/11.
LATEST ODDS: To win 2009 Wimbledon men's singles title: 8/11 Federer; 7/4 Murray; 9/1 Djokovic; 16/1 Del Potro; 20/1 Roddick; 20/1 Tsonga; 50/1 Haas.
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