Nadal begins battle to be fit for Wimbledon

Champion says he will not defend title unless knee injury clears up completely
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The Independent Online

Rafael Nadal will make every effort to defend his Wimbledon title but warned yesterday that he would not compete at the All England Club unless he is "100 per cent ready to play". The world No 1, who pulled out of this week's Aegon Championships here because of a long-term knee problem, saw a specialist in Barcelona and after two days of tests is hoping that an intensive recovery programme will enable him to play at Wimbledon, which starts in 12 days' time.

Nadal, who will travel to London next Tuesday, is suffering from inflammation in the tendons connecting his quadriceps muscles with his kneecaps. It is a common enough condition and one that has long troubled the 23-year-old Spaniard, but recovery can take a while. The injury may go a long way towards explaining his remarkable defeat by Robin Soderling at the French Open 10 days ago.

"I have been playing with pain in my knees for some months now and I simply can't go on like this," Nadal said yesterday in a statement on his website. "The pain was limiting certain movements in my body, which affected me mentally as well."

He added: "I am going to give 200 per cent to be ready for the most important tournament in the world, the tournament that I always dream about. I will not go out and play, especially on the Wimbledon Centre Court, if I am not 100 per cent ready to play."

At the end of last year Nadal missed the Tennis Masters Cup and Spain's Davis Cup final victory over Argentina because of knee trouble. He has tried playing this year without strapping on his knees and his difficulties did not stop him winning the Australian Open, the Indian Wells Masters and clay-court tournaments at Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome.

However, the world No 1's physical style clearly puts huge strain on his body. He also chooses a very demanding schedule. Nadal has already played 49 matches this year, 10 more than Roger Federer and eight more than Andy Murray. He played a total of 86 matches in 2007 and 93 last year.

Nadal will tackle the problem with anti-inflammatory drugs, physiotherapy and exercises on his quadriceps muscles. However, Dr Roger Wolman, a consultant in sports medicine at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, warned yesterday that recovery could take "months rather than weeks".

Dr Wolman said: "Two weeks does sound like a short time, though it will be more than three weeks since he last played. I would be very surprised if he was 100 per cent fit. They may well be able to get him fit enough to play, though whether he can last a full fortnight is another matter.

"The US Open could be a more likely recovery time, though playing on grass does make it easier. The playing surface is softer and the rallies tend to be shorter."

Dr Wolman said such injuries are often a long-term problem, but added: "If you shut him down for four or five months and put him through a comprehensive rehabilitation programme he could make a complete recovery and it may not trouble him for the rest of his career."

Andy Roddick, who has also had problems with tendinitis, said here yesterday that he did not expect Nadal to have any major difficulties at Wimbledon. "Rafa has had knee tendinitis for a long time and he's won Grand Slams while he's had it," Roddick said.

"On a positive side for Rafa, it's uncomfortable and it's painful, but it's not something that's going to be a career-threatening injury if you play on it. It's kind of a fancy term for overuse. In my mind I never thought that his Wimbledon defence was in jeopardy."

If Nadal were to pull out of Wimbledon Andy Murray would be the No 2 seed behind Roger Federer, who yesterday withdrew from this week's tournament in Halle, his usual pre-Wimbledon event, saying he was "emotionally overwhelmed and exhausted" following his French Open triumph. Federer won Halle en route to his first four Wimbledon triumphs but missing the German event did not prevent him winning his fifth two years ago.