The London Olympics was shorn of one of its biggest attractions yesterday when the reigning singles champion Rafael Nadal was forced to pull out because of injury.
Nadal was also due to carry the Spanish flag at next Friday's opening ceremony but has failed to recover from a knee problem. "I am not in a condition to be able to compete," the world No 3 said."It is one of the saddest moments of my career."
Nadal, who won a record seventh French Open title in June before crashing out at Wimbledon in a massive second-round upset against lowly ranked Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic, pulled out of a charity match against Novak Djokovic at Real Madrid's Bernabeu stadium earlier this month saying he was suffering from tendonitis and needed to rest.
He had hoped to return to Wimbledon this month to defend the Olympic title he won in Beijing in 2008, but said: "I have to think of my colleagues. I cannot be selfish and I have to think of the well-being of Spanish sport, especially Spanish tennis, and let a colleague play who has had a better preparation and is in a state to compete.
"Today is one of the saddest days of my career as it was one of my biggest dreams, and perhaps the most anticipated moment, to be the flag bearer at the opening ceremony for the Games in London. You can imagine how difficult it has been to take this decision."
The Spanish Tennis Federation president Jose Luis Escanuela echoed the sense of disappointment. "It's the worst news we could have. Rafa has always been an example of perseverance and tenacity, which makes it hard for him to miss out because surely he would have loved to return to the Games. I hope he recovers quickly."
It is not the first time that Nadal has been forced to withdraw from a big tournament because of injury. In 2009, he missed Wimbledon with a similar knee problem a year after winning the title for the first time in an epic defeat of Roger Federer.
The men's Olympic tennis competition begins on 28 July with Serbia's Djokovic seeded No 1.
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