Champion Nadal forced to pull out as injury strikes

Murray's path to final wide open as top seed withdraws to protect troublesome knee

Rafael Nadal skipped on to the stage in the main interview room here last night, but the news was not what the All England Club wanted to hear. "Unfortunately this year I won't be able to play here," the world No 1 told a packed press conference after a week in which the 2008 champion had done his utmost to recover from the knee problem that has left him in pain for much of this year.

"I'm just not 100 per cent," Nadal (below) said. "I'm better than I was feeling a couple of weeks ago, but I just don't feel ready. I want to try to get ready for the next tournaments after this. I don't feel ready to play in a tournament as important as Wimbledon. It's very painful for me." Nadal has had a long-term problem with his knees and was forced to miss the Masters Cup and Spain's Davis Cup final against Argentina at the end of last year. After pulling out of last week's Aegon Championships at Queen's Club, he delayed flying to Britain until this week.

He practised for two days at Wimbledon and has spent the last two days playing at the BNP Paribas Fortis Tennis Classic exhibition event at the Hurlingham club in south-west London. Wimbledon begins on Monday.

Nadal played Switzerland's Stanislas Wawrinka yesterday. Although he lost 4-6, 7-6, 10-3, the Spaniard showed no obvious signs of discomfort and appeared to be moving more easily than he had the previous day. However, he called the press conference later in the day to announce his withdrawal.

"I tried everything, he said. "I've worked very hard over the last few weeks. Today was the last test. I didn't feel terrible, but I didn't feel close to my best. When I start a tournament like this I want to win it and my feeling at the moment is that I'm not ready to win it. Not playing Wimbledon is one of the toughest decisions of my career, but there's no other option. I don't feel ready to compete 100 per cent for two weeks.

"I've played with some problems in my knees over the last few months. I've been making efforts to play every week, but with that pain it's hard." Nadal is only the second Wimbledon champion in the last 35 years not to return to defend his title. The last was Goran Ivanisevic, who did not come back in 2002.

"All my life Wimbledon was one of the most special tournaments, if not the most special," Nadal said. "This was my first chance to play here as the world No 1, so it's tough. I hope the crowd will understand that I tried my best." Although he did not use it as an excuse at the time, it seems certain that the knee injury was a significant factor in Nadal's extraordinary defeat by Robin Soderling in the French Open three weeks ago. The Spaniard revealed last night that he had appreciated the seriousness of his problem at last month's Madrid Masters, which preceded the French Open.

That Paris defeat, combined with his absence here, would enable Roger Federer to regain the world No 1 ranking by winning the Wimbledon title. The Swiss had held the top spot for a record 237 weeks in succession until Nadal overtook him last August, just weeks after he had beaten Federer in a thrilling Wimbledon final.

Nadal said he would take losing the No 1 position in his stride. "I'm happy about my season," Nadal said. "I've only had one bad result, to Soderling in Paris. If I lose the No 1 position I will accept it and work hard to recover." Nadal said that his doctors had advised him that the problem was not chronic and that there was no reason why he could not return to full fitness. "Sportsmen always play with pain," he said. "You really don't know where the limit is. I just think I've reached the limit now.

"I'll work very hard to come back as soon as possible and when I come back I want to be 100 per cent both physically and mentally. The problem when I play at the moment is that I'm thinking more about my knees than my game. It's very difficult to play well when you're feeling like that.

"I don't know how long I will be out for. I've arrived at one of the most important parts of the year and two of the most important tournaments – Wimbledon and Roland Garros – feeling my worst. For that reason it's tough to accept. Maybe I made some mistakes in the past with my schedule and maybe I'll have to learn from them." Nadal has long complained that the men's schedule is too punishing. He is partly a victim of his own success. He has had an extraordinary run this year, winning the Australian Open and the Indian Wells Masters before the clay-court season had even begun.

Until coming unstuck in Paris he had been as dominant as ever on clay, winning tournaments in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome and losing only to Federer in the final in Madrid.

At 23 Nadal has already won six Grand Slam titles and needs only to win the US Open to join Federer and five other players as the only men to have won all the Grand Slam crowns.

He has won 36 titles in total, with 2008 his most productive year. Among his eight victories were the French Open, Wimbledon and the Olympic tournament in Beijing.

A new route to glory for Murray

1st round: Robert Kendrick (US)

World No 76 took Nadal to five sets at Wimbledon three years ago but has never gone beyond the second round of a Slam, and never beaten Murray.

2nd round: Ernests Gulbis (Latvia)

Big-hitting 20-year-old tipped for a great future but has failed to build.

3rd round: Victor Troicki (Serbia)

World No 32 has yet to win a tour title and has lost both his previous matches against Murray.

4th round: Marat Safin (Russia)

Reached semis last year. Ex-world No 1 and US and Australian Open champion. Retires at end of season.

Quarter-finals: Gilles Simon (Fra) World No 7 had never gone beyond a Slam third round until losing to Nadal in this year's Australian quarters. Murray has won last three meetings.

Semi-finals: J Martin del Potro (Arg) In August 08, became the first player in ATP history to win his first four titles in as many tournaments.

Final: Roger Federer (Switzerland)

The five-times Wimbledon champion lost his title to Nadal last year. Beat Murray in last year's US Open final.

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