Djokovic surprised by Nadal's Australian Open withdrawal
World No1 Novak Djokovic has expressed his surprise at Rafael Nadal's withdrawal from the Australian Open, especially as the Spaniard had contacted him a week ago to arrange practice sessions with him in Abu Dhabi.
Nadal confirmed on Friday that he will be sitting out the Qatar Open in Doha as well as the first grand slam of the year in Melbourne due to the stomach virus that also ruled him out his this week's Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi.
“I got in touch with him like a week ago and he was saying he was coming here, and that we’re going to practice and see each other and he said he was feeling better," revealed Djokovic. "He was coming here and then suddenly, I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to him since."
Nadal had originally planned to end his six-month knee injury lay-off in Abu Dhabi this weekend but withdrew on Christmas Day - just two days before the start of the event - citing a stomach illness.
A return was expected in Doha next week, a fact that was confirmed on Thursday by his friend and countryman David Ferrer, but a statement from Nadal’s camp dashed those hopes and his Australian Open dreams.
“My knee is much better and the rehabilitation process has gone well as predicted by the doctors, but this virus didn’t allow me to practice this past week and therefore I am sorry to announce that I will not play in Doha and the Australian Open, as we had initially scheduled,” said Nadal.
“As my team and doctors say, the safest thing to do is to do things well and this virus has delayed my plans of playing these weeks. I will have to wait until the Acapulco tournament to compete again although I could consider to play before at any other ATP event.
“I always said that my return to competition will be when I am in the right conditions to play and after all this time away from the courts I rather not accelerate the comeback and prefer to do things well.”
Despite his surprise, Djokovic, who was unaware of the latest developments, understands that Nadal does not want to rush his rehabilitation having been away from the court for so long.
“I won the Australian Open last year and I had only played this tournament here in Abu Dhabi, a couple of matches,” said Djokovic. “Obviously for his (Nadal’s) situation right now that is quite specific, you can’t compare it to any other player because he’s been off the tour for six months so I’m sure he lacks matches and confidence and sharpness.
“I really don’t know what’s happening because no one has seen him six months. I really wish him a fast recovery because he is someone that brings a lot to tennis with his success, his athleticism, his competitiveness and also he’s a recognised athlete worldwide. It’s not good news definitely.”
Nicolas Almagro, who was drafted in as a last-minute replacement for Nadal in Abu Dhabi, was also surprised of his friend’s withdrawal from the Australian Open.
“Of course it’s surprising. We were talking with him and I talked in the players’ lounge with David (Ferrer) and he told me that Rafa isn’t 100 per cent right now," he said.
"He wants to wait a little bit and he doesn’t want to start in Melbourne because it’s five sets and his knees are not ready for that. We are waiting for him and we need to wait until South America. It’s one month and maybe he will be ready.”
Nadal’s coach and uncle, Toni Nadal, explained that the reason for withdrawing from the Australian Open was because the team felt the 11-time Grand Slam winner was not yet ready for the rigours of a five-set match.
“We consider not appropriate to play the Australian Open since we will not have enough preparation for a greater competition which is a Grand Slam tournament,” said Toni.
“It is simply not conceivable that his first event is a best of five sets event, he wouldn’t be ready for that. It is true we have been quite unlucky with this but there is nothing we can do.
"After all this time it is better to do things well and the most professional thing to do is to start when we are ready.”