WIMBLEDON, England — In the end, after a day of contemplation and consideration for what mattered most, health won out over the temptations of another title.
On Thursday evening, 24 hours after one of the bravest and most grueling efforts of his career, 22-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal withdrew from his semi-final match against Nick Kyrgios scheduled for Friday.
“I don’t think I can win two matches under these circumstances,” he said. “I can’t serve.”
Nadal made the announcement at a press conference just after 2 p.m. Eastern Time in the All England Club’s main press conference room, explaining he was stepping down due to a torn muscle. abdominal.
“I thought all day about the decision,” he said. “I think it doesn’t make sense to go there.”
“I am very sad,” he said.
Nadal, who entered the tournament halfway through a Grand Slam and is worried about his chronic foot injury, said he started experiencing pain in his abdomen about a week ago . The pain worsened and it became clear he had most likely torn his muscle early in his five-set victory over Taylor Fritz in the quarter-finals on Wednesday.
In this match, Nadal took a medical timeout in the second set. From the stands, his father and other family members waved for him to stop playing rather than risk further injury, but Nadal ignored their pleas and scored one of the most notable wins in history. a career that has seen many.
After the game, Nadal warned that he might not be able to play in the semi-finals and that he planned to have a CT scan to determine the extent of the injury.
“The decision at the end – all the decisions – is the decision of the player, but at the same time I need to know different opinions and I have to check everything in the right way, right? It’s even something more important to win Wimbledon is health,” he said. Yet few thought Nadal, who played in pain for so much of his career, wouldn’t at least try to play the semi-final.
The withdrawal – the first of a Wimbledon semi-final in the modern era of tennis – was particularly disappointing as Nadal’s game had improved with each game, which he noted on Thursday and after his victory over Fritz, although this is his first grass-court tournament in three. years.
“I’m in the semi-finals, so I’ve been playing really well the last few days, especially yesterday at the start of the game, playing at a very, very high level,” he said.
With Nadal out, Kyrgios receives a bye to his first Grand Slam singles final. Kyrgios, 27, had never made a Grand Slam singles semi-final before in a career filled with controversy.
“Different players, different personalities,” Kyrgios wrote of Nadal in an Instagram post after the announcement. “@rafaelnadal hope your recovery is going well and we hope to see you all soon healthy 🗣🙏🏽 until next time.”
Nadal had won the first two Grand Slam tournaments of the year, the Australian Open and the French Open. The win over Fritz put him just nine wins away from a calendar-year Grand Slam, something no male player has achieved since Rod Laver in 1969.
The withdrawal is the latest blow to a tournament that has followed a rocky road since April, when organizers announced they would ban Russian and Belarusian players from competing due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The organizers made the decision under intense pressure from the British government and the Royal Family, who are closely associated with the tournament and did not want Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, to be photographed carrying out her traditional duty to present a trophy to a Russian or Belarusian champion.
No tournament outside Britain, including the US Open, has followed Wimbledon’s example. The decision also sparked a battle with the men’s and women’s professional circuits, which decided not to award ranking points for wins at Wimbledon, turning the sport’s most prestigious tournament into something of an exhibition.
The situation became even trickier on Thursday when Elena Rybakina, who was born and raised in Russia but started representing Kazakhstan four years ago after her tennis federation offered to fund her development, qualified for the women’s final.
On Thursday night, however, everything else paled in comparison to the disappointment that Nadal couldn’t grab the pitch for his clash with Kyrgios, and had he prevailed, a possible 60th game against Novak Djokovic.
Nadal said the injury caused discomfort for several days, but the pain became intense in the fifth game of the game when he was leading 3-1. The situation got even worse a few games later when Fritz broke Nadal’s serve to get ahead.
Nadal said he then changed his way of serving, slowing down and shifting what is normally a violent twisting motion – the torque from his torso and the power from his legs – to serve at around 120 miles per hour. For long segments of the match, Nadal struggled to serve in triple figures.
Still, he resisted his family’s calls for him to quit, wanting to finish what he started. He defended the decision on Thursday even though it ultimately deprived the tournament of one of its semi-finals.
He called it the right decision “because I won the game. I finished the game. I won the game. I did the things that I felt every moment.
However, his willingness to risk his health changed on Thursday, he said, when he saw and felt the extent of the tear. He felt that winning two more games would be impossible and that trying would only make the injury worse and cause him to miss more games this summer.
“Very difficult circumstances,” he said, pursing his lips with that slight tilt of his head he so often does to convey unfortunate news.
He said he wouldn’t be able to compete for at least three or four weeks, but he could start hitting from the baseline in as little as a week and then start serving once he will be able to do it without discomfort. This is important for Nadal, as his chronically injured foot often becomes a problem when he is out of action for long periods. He can start serving sometime after, assuming he can play without pain.
That schedule, he said, won’t interfere with his normal summer schedule, which typically includes hard-court tournaments in Canada and Cincinnati before the US Open begins in late August.
From now on, Djokovic will not be able to play the US Open due to his refusal to get vaccinated against Covid-19. US policy currently prohibits unvaccinated foreigners from entering the country.
In recent years, Djokovic has become obsessed with finishing his career with the most Grand Slam singles titles. He started the year tied with Nadal and Roger Federer at 20.
Nadal went on to win the first two Grand Slams of the year to take the lead in a race he said he cared little about, which was a little difficult to fathom given his competitiveness on the court.
“As always, the most important thing is happiness more than any title, although everyone knows how much effort I put in to be here,” he said.
He also said on Thursday night that he never considered the withdrawal ending his chance for the calendar year Grand Slam, a quest that Djokovic has also obsessed over and has been one game away from succeeding. last year when Nadal missed the second half of the year. because of his sick foot.
“I never thought about schedule slam,” he said. “I thought about my daily happiness.”