• Rafael Nadal, world No2, withdraws from the Nitto ATP Finals due to abdominal injury and ankle surgery
• Replacement John Isner to debut in the tournament
• New No1 Novak Djokovic tops one group, No3 Roger Federer will top the other
• Djokovic now assured of the year-end No1 for a fifth time
There had been some doubts about Rafael Nadal’s participation in the season finale, the Nitto ATP Finals that begins at London’s O2 next weekend. He had been forced to pull out of the Paris Masters with an abdominal injury, and that after missing the entire Asian swing following retirement in the semi-finals of the US Open with a knee injury.
But Nadal’s Facebook post brought another sting in the tail, an ongoing ankle problem, for with his fitness not assured for the London tournament, he decided it was also timely to remedy the ankle issue at the same time.
Beginning “Hello everyone,” the French Open champion explained:
“I write these words at the end of the season. It has been a complicated year, very high at the tennis level when I was able to play, and in turn, very bad as far as injuries are concerned.
“I’ve done my best to get to the end of the season in good conditions, both to Paris and London, doing things right, and I really felt like playing.
“Unfortunately, I had the abdominal problem in Paris last week and, in addition, I have a free body in the ankle that has to be removed in the operating room today [Monday].
“It is true that we had detected it for a long time, and every once in a while, it bothered me. However, since the problem in the abdominal muscle prevents me from playing in London, we take advantage of the moment to remove the free body and avoid future problems. This way, I hope to be in full condition for the next season.”
It is the latest in a catalogue of injury upsets for the Spaniard, both over his career and throughout this season.
Nadal was forced to retire in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open and did not play again until the clay season—which proved to be as successful a swing as ever: Titles in Monte-Carlo, Barcelona, Rome and Roland Garros.
He then withdrew from Queen’s, and played two gruelling five-setters at Wimbledon in the quarters and semis. He went on to win in Toronto, but the US Open drew what has now become the finishing line on his season, though it has not been too shabby a show: 45-4, with the No1 ranking for most of the year.
But the ATP Finals is a tournament that has remained elusive on Nadal’s resume, often due to injury at the end of the long and demanding season faced by players at the top of the tennis ranks.
He has qualified among the elite eight for the last 14 years but has played only eight times, was forced to withdraw six times, and retired after one round-robin match last year. The good news, however, is that Spanish journalist Rafael Plaza has already tweeted that the surgery has been successfully completed.
But what of the repercussions?
First and foremost, Novak Djokovic, who took over from Nadal as No1 during the Paris Masters last week, is assured of finishing 2018 as No1: Only Nadal could have halted him.
And that means Djokovic joins Roger Federer and Jimmy Connors with five year-end No1 trophies. Only Pete Sampras has achieved more, six of them. It is all the more extraordinary because, in June this year, Djokovic was ranked No22 after his extended absence with an elbow injury.
The loss of No2 Nadal also means that Federer, ranked No3, will top one of the round-robin groups rather than falling in the same section as the Spaniard or Djokovic—as he did in the Paris Masters.
Nadal’s withdrawal did have another knock-on effect, and a more positive one.
John Isner, who won his first Masters title in Miami and reached his first Major final at Wimbledon, has got his reward: his first qualification for the World Tour Finals at the age of 33. He joins Kevin Anderson, age 32, as one of the two new faces in the tournament.
Boosted into the ‘alternate’ slots are debutant Masters winner in Paris yesterday, 22-year-old Karen Khachanov, and 21-year-old Borna Coric, who won his first ATP500 with victory over Federer in Halle, and made his first Masters final in Shanghai.
The group names
This year, the group names will honour players from the 2000s. In singles, Group Guga Kuerten will contain No1 seed, Djokovic, and Group Lleyton Hewitt will be topped by No2 seed Federer
Group Guga Kuerten
1 Novak Djokovic
3 Alexander Zverev
5 Marin Cilic
8 John Isner
Group Lleyton Hewitt
2 Roger Federer
4 Kevin Anderson
6 Dominic Thiem
7 Kei Nishikori
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