Rafael Nadal pulls out of Abu Dhabi comeback
Rafael Nadal has apologised to his fans in the UAE after a stomach virus forced him to withdraw from the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, which starts on Thursday.
The 11-time Grand Slam champion has not played since Wimbledon and aimed to use his appearance at the Abu Dhabi tournament to ease himself into the new season.
Those plans have been scuppered by the illness though, with doctors advising Nadal – who has played in all four previous Mubadala events, winning twice – not to travel or compete.
The 11th-hour withdrawal is a blow for the MWTC which was already missing Roger Federer for the first time in its short history.
Organisers confirmed on Tuesday night that Nadal would be replaced in the tournament’s line-up, with an announcement over the player’s identity expected at lunchtime on Wednesday.
In a statement, Nadal revealed his frustration at the timing of his illness, with his rehabilitation for tendinitis in his knee going well.
“I am very disappointed that I will not be able to compete this year in Abu Dhabi,” said Nadal, who has not played since his second-round defeat to Lukas Rosol in June.
“I was really excited about returning to play and I always have a wonderful experience at the event and this is the first time I will miss the tournament.
“My rehab has gone well, my knee feels good and I was looking forward to competing. Unfortunately doctors have informed me that my body needs to rest in order to fight this stomach virus.
“I would like to say sorry to all my fans in the United Arab Emirates and around the world, but I hope to play and win in Abu Dhabi again next year.”
It remains to be seen who Nadal’s replacement in Abu Dhabi will be, but organisers have told Sport360° they are "confident" a player inside the Top 20 will step into the breacj
Former participants who could deputise include Gael Monfils, who is due to take part in the Qatar Open from December 31.
World No10 Richard Gasquet is also in the draw for the Doha tournament, while Marcos Baghdatis – who played in the capital two years ago – is set to play alongside Andy Murray in the Brisbane International next week.
IMG Middle East managing director Greg Sproule said: “Naturally we are all extremely disappointed that Rafael will not be able to attend this year’s event, especially when his progress towards full fitness was going so well.
“But a player’s health is always the No1 priority so we understand that Rafa must follow medical advice. We wish him well with his recovery.
“The Mubadala World Tennis Championship is committed to bringing the best players in the world to Abu Dhabi and we are finalising plans to bring in another top player to our already extremely strong field.
“With five of the top 10 players in the world already here including world No1 Novak Djokovic trying to defend his title and Andy Murray returning as a Grand Slam Champion, it’s going to be another memorable three days of tennis here in Abu Dhabi.”