If it wasn’t clear enough during his three-set loss to David Goffin Monday at the ATP Tour Finals in London, the next clue was in the goodbye.
Rafael Nadal saluted the full house at the O2 in London comprehensively – far longer than a man who planned to return two days later to play another match would likely do.
And so it was. Just a few minutes later in his press conference, the year-end No. 1 announced that he was one and done in London.
“No, I am off. My season is finished. Yeah, I had the commitment with the event, with the city, with myself. I tried hard. I did the thing that I had to do to try to be ready to play. But I am really not ready to play,” he told the media in London.
Nadal’s right knee had been giving him trouble since the Asian swing, perhaps longer. He played a full swing on the hard courts. First came Montreal, Cincinnati and seven matches in winning the US Open. After that, there was the Laver Cup. Then, five more matches to win Beijing, and five more to get to the final in Shanghai. It was a big load for the knee to handle.
After pulling out of Basel, the 31-year-old did show in Paris to meet his commitment there. But after scratching out two victories, he withdrew before his quarterfinal match against qualifier Filip Krajinovic.
In the week preceding the Tour Finals, various reports had Nadal and his entourage optimistic, uncertain, confident and everything in between.
What was clear was that Nadal wouldn’t be 100 per cent. What also was clear was that, as the newly-crowned year-end No. 1, and with the Tour Finals being one big title that has eluded him, he was going to try.
First win for Goffin
Nadal saved four match points in the second set Monday to make Goffin sweat it out. But in the end, the first Belgian to qualify for the Tour Finals was able to pull it out.
“I’m very happy. Was such a great atmosphere tonight, and I’m looking forward to coming back in two days,” Goffin said during his on-court interview. “Honestly, I don’t know, after the second set it was tough. I had no regrets in the second. He played really well in the tiebreak. On the match points he played only winners. I had really only one small opportunity.”
It was the first win in three meetings with Nadal for Goffin, who had never faced him before this season. The first two took place on clay.
Goffin himself had tape on his knee. The Belgian also appeared hampered at times, although not as comprehensively as his opponent.
“It’s the best win of my career, for sure, to beat Rafa. But, yeah, I saw that he was struggling a little bit with his movement on the court, and his knee was suffering a little bit,” Goffin said later during his press conference. “It was tough even if he was not moving 100 per cent. He was hitting the ball really hard. It was not easy. It’s never easy to finish a match, to finish a set against him. Even if I lost four match points in the second, I had no regret. I kept going in the third.”
Nadal and the Tour Finals – an unrequited romance
The Mallorcan has qualified for the Tour Finals every season since 2005. This year, he was the first in, after winning the French Open back in June.
But he has yet to win it.
In fact, he has reached the finals only twice, in 2010 and 2013.
Five times, Nadal was unable to take the court. Twice, he was eliminated during the group stage. This is the first time he has pulled out mid-event.
According to the ATP rules, the penalty for not playing at all in the ATP Finals is steep – five per cent of total prize money. In Nadal’s case, that would run up over $600,000. But a “bona fide injury” would waive that penalty even if Nadal hadn’t shown at all. And there’s no doubt the knee injury is a legitimate one.
He wanted to at least try.
Sampras Group wide open
What will happen now is that Nadal’s countryman, Pablo Carreño-Busta, will replace him as the alternate. Instead of playing Nadal, Grigor Dimitrov and Dominic Thiem will play Carreño-Busta in the group stages.
Thiem will be up against Carreño-Busta on Wednesday night, while Goffin plays Dimitrov during the day session.
On Friday, Goffin will play Thiem, and Dimitrov will meet Carreño-Busta.
Carreño-Busta can still advance to the semifinals, even with only two matches.
But a lot would have to happen.
He would have to beat both Thiem and Dimitrov, for starters, to post a 2-0 record. Beating Thiem Wednesday night would all but eliminate the Austrian, whose pool record would be 1-2 at best.
One more win for Goffin would ensure, at worst, a 2-1 record. So he would make it. If Dimitrov defeats Goffin, he will make it, for the same reason. Within the rules, a 2-1 record beats out a 2-0 record in round-robin play.
It’s impossible for Goffin and Dimitrov to both post 1-2 records, because they have yet to meet, and one of them will win that meeting and post his second round-robin victory.
Goffin can qualify Wednesday if he defeats Dimitrov in straight sets, and Carreño-Busta beats Thiem. In that case, Dimitrov and Carreño-Busta would face off on Friday for second spot from their group.
Dimitrov qualifies Wednesday if: – He defeats Goffin Goffin qualifies Wednesday if: – He defeats Dimitrov in 2 sets – He defeats Dimitrov and Carreno Busta defeats Thiem