Uncertainty over health has threatened to scuttle what was to be a fascinating, en-masse return to action from top players on the ATP Tour.
But among the question marks, Novak Djokovic seemed the one most ready to return to action.
But now, the former No. 1 also is an uncertainty.
Djokovic pulled out of the exhibition in Abu Dhabi Friday without having played a match.
He cited pain in the elbow that has kept him out since Wimbledon last July. His first scheduled match was to be Friday evening.
“I am terribly disappointed that I am forced to withdraw from the Mubadala World Tennis Championship. Unfortunately, in the past few days I started to feel pain in the elbow. And after several tests, my medical team has advised me not to risk anything, to withdraw from the tournament and to immediately continue with the therapies.
“I am very sad because I was eager to return to playing official matches. I enjoyed the practices and everything I did to get ready for the start of the season, including the tournament in Abu Dhabi, where I always enjoy playing. Now I need to accept this situation, and to wait for the results of the therapies, in order to start playing tennis again and getting back to full rhythm. This might affect the start of the season and the tournament plan. But the decision will be made in the following days.”
Djokovic had returned to full-practice mode fairly late in the offseason. Still, with the arrival of mentor Andre Agassi in Europe and the hiring of day-to-day coach Radek Stepanek, it appeared all systems would be go with his full team in place.
Andy Murray steps in
The Serb’s public pronouncements had been extremely encouraging.
But with the normal increase in intensity leading up to his first match since July, he felt some pain.
In an ironic twist, Andy Murray will step in for Djokovic for the scheduled match against Bautista-Agut.
Murray’s ongoing hip issues led to his own withdrawal from the event. But he arrived in the city Thursday, set to practice with some of the players in the event. The idea (beyond helping out the organizers of an event decimated by late withdrawals from its top players) was to gauge the state of his hip.
Murray plans to head to Brisbane for the first scheduled tournament of his 2018 season.
Brisbane already has been hit with the withdrawals of Rafael Nadal (who also pulled out of Abu Dhabi) and Kei Nishikori.
For his part, Djokovic is entered in the ATP tournament in nearby Doha next week.