Nadal withdrew from the French Open on Friday with a left wrist injury, one day after he registered a landmark 200th grand slam victory by crushing Argentina’s Facundo Bagnis.
Indeed the news was surprising given that the record nine-time Roland Garros champion dropped only nine games through the opening two rounds. Nadal had been enjoying a renaissance, too, after winning clay-court titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona in April.
He said the injury surfaced this month while playing at the Madrid Masters but the pain lessened by the next week at a tournament in Rome. It escalated in Paris and Nadal needed an injection ahead of his match against Bagnis.
“Every day was a little bit worse,” Nadal told reporters, calling it one of the toughest press conferences of his career.
He sported a brace and appeared close to tears.
“We tried to do all the treatments possible,” he continued. “Every single day we spent a lot of hours here working so hard to try to play. Yesterday I played with an injection on the wrist with anesthetic, to sleep my wrist.
“I could play but the thing is, yesterday night I started to feel more and more pain and today in the morning I feel I could not move much the wrist.”
MRI tests weren’t encouraging and Nadal’s doctor said more injections were out of the question. The sheath of his tendon is “suffering” and more pounding could lead to a broken wrist, according to the fourth seed.
“I needed five more matches,” Nadal said. “But if my wrist cannot withstand five more matches, I simply cannot play.
“It’s obvious that if it’s not Roland Garros I will probably not take risks on playing the first two (rounds), but it’s the most important event of the year for me so we tried our best.”
Nadal, then, is facing a race against time to play at the next grand slam, Wimbledon, which begins in just over four weeks.
In English, he said he would “work hard” to be ready for the year’s lone grass-court major but in Spanish later he conceded he could miss three months. If it’s the latter, Nadal would be in danger of bypassing August’s Olympics, an event he covets.
Nadal won gold in Beijing in 2008 but a knee injury meant he was unable to defend his title. Perhaps the Olympics, and not Wimbledon, is the priority if he had to choose one — he is due to be Spain’s flag bearer in Rio.
His career has been littered with injuries, most notably to those knees. But the 14-time grand slam winner had to skip the U.S. Open in 2014 with a right wrist problem. Then there have been back troubles and appendicitis. In 2011, seeking to win four straight grand slams, a hamstring injury led to a defeat against David Ferrer in the Australian Open quarterfinals.
The pullout, in relation to this French Open, will be a huge boost to world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who is bidding to complete his grand slam collection in Paris.
Nadal and Djokovic landed in the same half of the draw and many were anticipating a semifinal showdown a year after the Serb downed his rival in the quarterfinals.
Turning 30 next week — and with this latest injury setback — one wonders when, or if, Nadal will be able to seriously contend for another grand slam title. Heading into the French Open, Nadal hadn’t been beyond the third round at his last three majors.
Tournament director Guy Forget, already given a blow when Roger Federer skipped the event as he recovers from a back injury, said he understood Nadal’s decision. The former French Davis Cup captain must be wondering what he did to deserve this kind of bad luck in his first year in the job.
“Tennis needs Rafa and he couldn’t take the risk of being away from the courts for six months or a year,” Forget told reporters.