Rafael Nadal Withdraws From London Olympics
On a turbulent Thursday in Spain, when thousands protested throughout the country over unpopular economic reforms, this news could not have improved the national mood: Rafael Nadal, the Spanish tennis icon, will not defend his Olympic title at the London Games.
Nadal, who had been named to carry the flag for Spain at next Friday’s Opening Ceremony, announced his withdrawal from the Spanish team after a morning practice session in which he concluded, according to his uncle and coach Toni Nadal, that his recurring knee problems would not allow him to compete effectively.
“Today is one of the saddest days of my career,” Rafael Nadal said in a statement.
Nadal, 26, won the Olympic singles title in Beijing and had put a high priority on this year’s Olympic tournament, which will be contested on the same grass courts where Wimbledon is played each year.
Nadal, an 11-time Grand Slam singles champion who already ranks among the greatest-ever tennis players, won Wimbledon in 2008 and 2010. But he was on the wrong side of one of the biggest upsets in tennis history at Wimbledon this year, when he was beaten in five sets in the second round by the 100th-ranked Lukas Rosol. Nadal made no mention of knee pain immediately after that defeat. He had played brilliantly to win his seventh French Open title earlier in June.
But according to Spanish newspaper El Pais, Nadal twice underwent magnetic resonance imaging scans during Wimbledon because of concern about his knees, particularly his left knee. After the loss to Rosol, El Pais reported that he consulted with his personal physician Angel Cotorro, who also works with the Spanish Tennis Federation and then returned to Vitoria to receive injections from Mikel Sanchez, the same physician who has administered platelet-rich plasma therapy to Nadal in the past to address his tendinitis.
Citing his knee problems, Nadal canceled a charity exhibition with Novak Djokovic scheduled for July 14 on grass in Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid: an exhibition that organizers hoped would attract 80,000 fans. Nadal announced he would stop training for 15 days. He eventually resumed conditioning work but playing tennis at the level required to compete for a gold medal apparently proved too difficult.
Nadal did not mention his knees directly in his statement on Thursday: only saying that he was not “in a condition” to play. “He doesn’t want to give excuses for past losses; he’s not in condition to play; that’s all he wants to say,” said his publicist Benito Perez-Barbadillo in a telephone interview. “He’s going to start practicing again. He’s just not ready to compete. He’s not competing for himself here. This is not Rome or Madrid or even the French Open. This is competing for your country. You can’t go out there when someone else can be competing at full strength.”
Nadal’s withdrawal allowed the Spanish Tennis Federation the time to name another Spanish player to fill his spot in singles and doubles. Feliciano Lopez will play in the singles; Nadal’s friend and occasional partner Marc Lopez will play in the doubles.
“I have to think about my companions,” Nadal said in his statement. “I can’t be selfish, and I have to think of what’s best for Spanish sport, especially tennis, and give up my spot to someone who has had better preparation than mine and is ready to compete.”
Perez-Barbadillo said Nadal did not expect to travel to London during the Games, and the Spanish National Olympic Committee is expected to announce his replacement as flag bearer on Friday.
“It is bad news for Spanish sport but also bad news for Nadal himself,” said Alejandro Blanco, president of Spain’s NOC in comments reported by Spanish news agency EFE.
Blanco said Nadal telephoned him directly to inform him of his decision. “I heard his voice and I could sense what he was feeling,” Blanco said in comments reported by EFE. “I believe it’s a very difficult day for him. All we can do is give him our applause and support because this decision cost him a lot.”
His decision could have a major impact at the Olympics, where Roger Federer, fresh off his victory at Wimbledon and back at No. 1 in the rankings, no longer will face the prospect of playing Nadal, who has dominated their head-to-head rivalry. It remains unclear what this decision means for Nadal’s career and what remains of his so-far fine season.
Toni Nadal told Spain’s RadioMarca that his nephew — now ranked third behind Federer and Djokovic — could certainly be back in time to play in the year’s final Grand Slam tournament, the United States Open, which begins Aug. 27.
But Toni Nadal also said that this was probably his nephew’s last chance to play in the Olympics, and his knees continue to be a major concern. They prevented him from playing at Wimbledon in 2009; they forced him to retire in the quarterfinals of the 2010 Australian Open and this season, to rest in February and later withdraw before the semifinal of the Sony Ericsson Open in March. But he roared back to dominate the clay-court season again. Clay, however, is a surface that is easier on his joints. Now, if he returns to competition for the United States Open, he will be playing on less forgiving hard courts.