The US Open, which starts in six days’ time, received the news that every tournament dreads when Rafael Nadal announced his withdrawal from the year’s final Grand Slam because of a wrist injury.
The 28-year-old Spaniard, who has become the biggest draw in his sport, had been due to defend his title at a tournament where he has reached the final in each of his last three appearances.
Nadal has been training with a cast on his right wrist since suffering the injury in practice last month. Having initially pulled out of the Masters Series tournaments in Toronto and Cincinnati, he had hoped to return to competition in New York for the first time since Wimbledon, but said on his Facebook and Twitter pages that the injury had not healed in time.
“I am sure you understand that it is a very tough moment for me since it is a tournament I love and have great memories of,” Nadal said. “There is not much more I can do right now other than accept the situation and, as always in my case, work hard in order to be able to compete at the highest level once I am back.”
Video: Nadal withdraws from US Open
Wrist injuries are among those that tennis players fear the most. The human body was not designed to strike hundreds of tennis balls every day and the wrist can be vulnerable to complex injuries. Juan Martin del Potro missed the best part of 2010 following an operation on one wrist and has not played since February after surgery on the other; Laura Robson has not competed for seven months after a similar procedure.
Early indications are that Nadal’s injury is not as serious. Indeed, it could prove to be a blessing in disguise. Nadal had been playing a heavy schedule ever since his comeback following a seven-month absence with knee trouble last February. He looked well below his best at Wimbledon and an enforced rest could be just what his knees, in particular, need.
With 14 Grand Slam titles, Nadal is only three short of Roger Federer’s all-time record. He could well have matched his oldest rival but for the injuries that have dogged him over the years. While Federer prepares to start his 60th consecutive Grand Slam tournament next week, Nadal will be missing his fourth in the last six years.
Despite the injuries, Nadal’s record is remarkable. In the 16 Grand Slams he has played since the 2010 Australian Open, he has won the title eight times and finished runner-up four times. His only “failures” which could not be blamed on specific injuries (a hamstring problem was a major reason for his defeat by David Ferrer in the quarter-finals of the 2011 Australian Open) were his Wimbledon defeats in 2012, 2013 and 2014 to Lukas Rosol, Steve Darcis and Nick Kyrgios. While organisers of tournaments in the latter part of the season will wait anxiously for medical bulletins from the Nadal camp, the season-ending Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London will be grateful that the Spaniard has already qualified for the field alongside Novak Djokovic and Federer, who secured his place with his victory over Ferrer in the Cincinnati Masters final on Sunday night.
Places at the O2 Arena go to the eight players who have earned the most ranking points over the calendar year. Andy Murray is currently in ninth on the qualifying list but Nadal’s absence from New York will at least mean that he will be one of the top eight seeds and therefore cannot meet any of the big names before the quarter-finals.
Djokovic will also benefit from Nadal’s absence, which looks sure to guarantee that the Serb holds on to top place in the world rankings for a good while yet.