The Magician disappears as Raonic flies solo

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The last time we saw Milos Raonic, he was with coach Fabrice Santoro at Wimbledon.

Despite his Canadian’s back woes, which continued Thursday in a third-round loss at the Citi Open, he still made the second week.

And Argentina’s Guido Pella needed to go 8-6 in the fifth set to beat him.

But there was no Santoro in Washington, D.C. this week.

And, it appears, going forward.

When Tennis.Life asked if the French player nicknamed “The Magician” would be in Montreal for the Rogers Cup, Raonic said he wouldn’t.

When we asked when he was expected back on board, Raonic said the topic “hadn’t been discussed”.

In Raonic-speak, if we read him correctly, that means “he’s done”. At least for now.

Mario Tudor into the breach

Raonic looked pretty overheated even during the warmup with coach Mario Tudor Thursday at the Citi Open. During his loss to lucky loser Peter Gojowczyk, his back stiffened up on him – again.

In Washington this week, Raonic had former Tour player Mario Tudor, a Croat, with him.

Tudor, 41, is a very good friend and former coach of Goran Ivanisevic. And Raonic said Thursday that when Ivanisevic was coaching him, Tudor was the one who filled on during the weeks that Ivanisevic had other commitments and couldn’t travel.

So he’s a familiar face.

But that’s another coach in the books. As much as people talk about how many Raonic’s countrywoman Genie Bouchard has had in her career, Raonic can’t be too far behind her.

Canadians prep for “Canada Day” to open Wimbledon

WIMBLEDON – On the final day of Wimbledon prep, the training centre at adjacent Aorangi Park was lousy with Canadians.

At 1 p.m., Vasek Pospisil practiced with Belgian Ruben Bemelmans, and Genie Bouchard hit with American Madison Brengle, a former charge of Canadian Fed Cup captain Heidi el Tabakh, who is acting as coach this week.

With about 20 minutes left in that hour session, more Canadians took to the new warmup area that contained the girders for the No. 1 Court last year, and had practice courts No. 1 and No. 2 for years before that.

There, Brayden Schnur, Félix Auger-Aliassime, Denis Shapovalov and Milos Raonic warmed up for their 2 p.m. practice sessions.

Shapovalov and Raonic actually practiced together. And right next to them, Auger-Aliassime hit with American Frances Tiafoe.

There were friendly exchanges between Auger-Aliassime’s mother Marie Auger and Raonic’s parents and girlfriend.

Even Erin Routliffe, the New Zealand-born Canadian who moved to Canada at a young age, was on site. Routliffe is an alternate in the women’s doubles draw, with the doubles qualifying having been eliminated this year.

Here’s what it looked like. All that was missing were a few maple leafs sprinkled about the courts.

Say a Canadian “Hiya” to Rog

The next two on Raonic and Shapovalov’s court were … Roger Federer and his old pal Tomas Berdych.

So that got the Canadians a couple of hellos from the man himself.

Auger-Aliassime and Pospisil will square off in an all-Canadian battle – on Canada Day, no less – that should start about 7:30 a.m. EDT.

Raonic will follow on the same Court 12.

Schnur (against Marcos Baghdatis), Shapovalov (against Ricardas Berankis) and Bouchard (against Tamara Zidansek) will play Tuesday.

Despite back woes, Raonic prevails in Queen’s opener

LONDON – The back issue that forced Milos Raonic to withdraw from the Stuttgart tournament last week prior to his semifinal match against young countryman Felix Auger-Aliassime was not a new one.

The Canadian told Tennis.Life, after his 6-3, 6-2 victory over Marco Cecchinato in the first round at Queen’s Club Wednesday, that it’s been ongoing since his second tournament of the season.

It’s also not the first time Raonic – whose long legs mean a crazy-high center of gravity – has had back issues.

Hence, the return of the mouthguard.

The 28-year-old was happy he was able to get on the court Wednesday at all. And even happier that he was able to be efficient in his win over the Italian.

There were no cameras on the court, which isn’t normally used for singles. But we were there to capture the moments.

Interestingly, Raonic said that ending up on a smaller court that didn’t have Hawkeye, and the fact that it was getting darker, actually changed his serving strategy. It’s tough enough on the line umpires on the grass courts in ideal conditions. But these were a challenge.

“It was tough to really feel comfortable. Normally I go for a little bit more on my second serve. But to play on a court without Hawkeye, on a smaller court, was a little difficult. I’m happy with the way I dealt with things,” Raonic said.

“It wasn’t easy not knowing when or if I was going to have an opportunity to play today. And then also seeing those dark clouds came over towards the end. I started to rush a little bit.”

Back injection Monday night

After Stuttgart pullout, Raonic readies for Cecchinato (video)

Raonic has a decent draw. He’ll play qualifier Aljaz Bedene in the second round Thursday, weather permitting.

But he still didn’t feel very good during the match against Cecchinato.

Tennis.Life spoke to Raonic about the withdrawal last week (the 10th of his career) and what the decision-making is in those cases.

He also talked about what the last week or so has been like, in dealing with his back issue. 

These are things you don’t necessarily see on the court, where he looked okay to the unknowing eye on Wednesday.

And often they’re not asked about it (the TV interview Raonic did just prior to our chat involved asking him about what TV shows he was watching during the rain delay).

It’s pretty interesting, especially as Raonic didn’t have to be as forthcoming as he was. Enjoy.

After Stuttgart pullout, Raonic readies for Cecchinato (video)

LONDON – Milos Raonic didn’t hit the practice court much – if at all, during the first two days at Queen’s Club.

Of course, most of Tuesday was a washout.

But the 28-year-old Canadian looked hampered by his back through most of his return to action in Stuttgart last week.

And before he was to play 18-year-old countryman Félix Auger-Aliassime in the semifinals, he withdrew.

With Wimbledon looming, there are no chances to be taken. And Raonic had already been out of action nearly three months, since the Miami Open.

On Wednesday, he was out warming up with coach Fabrice Santoro at noon, in preparation for his first-round match at the Fever-Tree Championships against Marco Cecchinato.

Here’s what it looked like.

Compared to countrymen Denis Shapovalov (del Potro) and Félix Auger-Aliassime (Grigor Dimitrov), it’s not as bad a draw as all that.

If he can beat Cecchinato, he’d play either Alex de Minaur or qualifier Aljaz Bedene.

Raonic made the finals at Queen’s Club in 2016, losing to Andy Murray in a very entertaining match.

But a year ago, after winning his first round when India’s Yuki Bhambri retired down a set and 3-1 in the second, he pulled out before his second-round match against Feliciano Lopez with a right shoulder issue.

Raonic withdraws before Stuttgart meeting with FAA

It’s not the first time Milos Raonic has pulled out because of injury in the middle of a tournament.

But it’s particularly unfortunate this time.

The No. 1 Canadian was due to meet the teenager who’s nipping at his heels, 18-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime.

So Auger-Aliassime, who saved a match point in an impressive win over grass-court showman Dustin Brown in the quarterfinals Friday, goes directly to the final.

It will be his third ATP Tour final this season, after Rio and Lyon.

He’ll meet unseeded Matteo Berrettini as he tries to win his first career singles title.

On grass – in his first grass-court tournament in the pro ranks.

How about that? New favorite surface, right?

Raonic
(Screenshot: TennisTV)

Raonic’s back barking

The star-crossed Raonic had been out since he lost to Kyle Edmund in his second match in Miami. 

He missed the entire clay-court season. Earlier in his career, Raonic had always managed to pick right up where he left off after an injury absence. But it’s been significantly more difficult for him in the last year.

And the bottom line is that he likely wasn’t at full health when he did come back.

Raonic was the defending finalist in Stuttgart, where he lost to Roger Federer a year ago.

Raonic
(Screenshot: TennisTV)

You could see, even as Raonic managed to get through three-set wins against qualifier Alexei Popyrin and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the earlier round, that he wasn’t feeling great. He survived both in third-set tiebreaks.

His match against Marton Fucsovics in the quarterfinals on Friday was more routine (6-4, 6-4). But even then, he had the trainer out to rub some heat creme on his back. And he looked uncomfortable throughout.

Wimbledon the goal

Beyond how … not fun it would have been to lose to a decade-younger compatriot when he wasn’t firing on all cylinders, Raonic has had to take a big-picture look at things. He’s got Queen’s Club next week. And then he has Wimbledon. 

Still, if you can respect a player for not taking the court when he feels not fit enough to play, Raonic has done this often enough in his career that he risks being tagged with it.

It’s the 10th time he’s done it – the fourth time in the last 14 months.

Raonic

Great opportunity for FAA

Raonic
(Screenshot: TennisTV)

For Auger-Aliassime, it’s a great opportunity to win a title. His opponent is not much more experienced on grass than he is despite being 4 1/2 years older. And Berrettini definitely prefers the clay even if he beat No. 2 seed Karen Khachanov, Nick Kyrgios and the in-form Jan-Lennard Struff to get there.

Berrettini’s first-ever grass-court season was a year ago. He qualified at both Halle (beating Brown in three tiebreaks in the first round of qualifying, something Auger-Aliassime experienced this week) and Eastbourne. He lost first round in both main draws.

He then came back from two sets to none down to defeat Jack Sock in his first-ever match at Wimbledon, before losing to Gilles Simon.

Berrettini also played a match on grass earlier this year in Kolkata, in a Davis Cup qualifier against India.

A year ago, Auger-Aliassime, then 17, skipped the grass-court season entirely to work on his game. He was grinding it out on the clay-court Challenger circuit.

He had the points from a Challenger title to defend this week, won on clay a year ago in Lyon.

He’s done that. He’ll maintain his career-high ranking of No. 21 regardless of what happens in the final.

Raonic
It was a pretty tough loss for Brown, to say the least. But he couldn’t have been more gracious. (Screenshot: TennisTV)

The kid has grown visibly more comfortable on the surface just through this week. His only previous experience on it was as a junior in 2016. He lost to Alex de Minaur (with whom he’s scheduled to play doubles at Queen’s next week) in the quarterfinals, when he visibly ran out of gas.

He and Denis Shapovalov made the doubles final.

But that was three years ago.

Standout effort against Brown

In Stuttgart, Auger-Aliassime defeated veterans Ernests Gulbis and Gilles Simon in straight sets. 

The match against Brown took three tiebreaks to decide. Auger-Aliassime was down 3-5 in the third set. Brown served for it at 5-4, but the Canadian’s ability to consistently put the ball in play on the return served him extremely well.

He made Brown earn it. And the German was almost, but not quite, up to the task.

Raonic
It wasn’t all blue skies and green grass for Auger-Aliassime against Brown in teh quarterfinals, but he hung tough and was rewarded. (Screenshot: TennisTV)

Auger-Aliassime went through the gamut. He received a code violation for angrily firing a ball out of the court. He buried his head in his towel during one changeover. He slipped and fell a few times – surprisingly, not many. 

But he remained resolute. And not only did it pay off in a win Friday, it also will add some terrific experience to his grass-court file.

Berrettini, yet another Italian who has broken through in the last few years on the clay courts, came into the week at a career-high No. 30 in the singles rankings. He’ll be at no lower than No. 24 if he loses. If he wins, he’ll be right behind Auger-Aliassime at No. 22.

(All screenshots from TennisTV)

Canadians do a LOT of talking at Indian Wells (video)

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – You know who’s done a whole lotta talking at the BNP Paribas Open?

The Canadians.

Win or lose, rain or dry – amid the moths and beetles – the Canuck crew created more buzz than any single group at Indian Wells.

The veteran Milos Raonic did as he usually does – went deep in the desert. And he’s still in it, to face Dominic Thiem in the semifinals.

Teenager Félix Auger-Aliassime impressed in a dominant win over Stefanos Tsitsipas. But then he hit the wall physically against Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan. 

Even then, he almost pulled it off.

Denis Shapovalov made a victory over Grand Slam champion Marin Cilic look routine, before not playing his best against the unseeded Hubert Hurkacz.

And then, there was Bianca Andreescu.

The third of the teen triumvirate is into the final, after getting into the tournament as a wild card.

Here is Milos Raonic talking about righting recent wrongs.

Here’s Auger-Aliassime looking at the positive after a great few weeks.

Here’s Shapovalov talking rap, and shrugging off a sub-par day.

And finally, here’s Andreescu after her crushing win over Garbiñe Muguruza, and answering questions that will allow the fans just discovering her to get to know her a little bit.

 

Nadal headlines TBTs at IW

The BNP Paribas Open announced Monday that Rafael Nadal will headline a Tie Break Tens event ahead of the main Indian Wells Masters 1000 / Premier Mandatory tournament.

It’s a winner-take-all event, with $150,000 US going to the winner.

Also confirmed are Dominic Thiem, Gaël Monfils and Milos Raonic. Two spots remain in the six-man field.

(We say “six-man field”, of course, because it’s a men-only event).

The Eisenhower Cup

It will be called the “Eisenhower Cup presented by Masimo”, and held on Tuesday, March 5 at 7 p.m. during the Indian Wells qualifying. They’ll use fabulous Stadium 2 to play it.

The format is two pools of three players, playing a first-to-10 match tiebreak. The winners of the two pools will square off in the final.

It’s a great addition to the first couple of days of the event.

The tickets, which go on sale Tuesday at 1 p.m. EST on the BNP Paribas Open website, will be $25. Proceeds from the event will go to four local charities: Masimo’s Patient Safety Movement, Eisenhower Health, Bighorn Golf Club Charities; and Family YMCA of the Desert.

Who will the final two be? Do you think they can convince Djokovic, Federer or del Potro to sign on? Tune in.

Speaking of Tie Break Tens, wasn’t there supposed to be a similar event at the Australian Open during the qualifying week? Whatever happened with that? It just … disappeared.

2019 Indian Wells doubles lineup … singular

Top singles stars often play doubles at the BNP Paribas Open, a popular choice in the first event of a series, with a climate or surface change to adjust to.

There’s a full 32-team doubles field at Indian Wells. And with 32 seeds with first-round byes, most of the singles players don’t start until later in the week – some as late as the first weekend. 

Andy Murray played the desert doubles 11 straight times between 2007 and 2017.

The 2019 lineup is no different. In fact, it might be one of the more interesting lineups already – if all the players who’ve committed follow through.

The entry deadline isn’t until Monday. And there are two wild cards to be distributed. So there will be more additions.

But already, you know the team of Novak Djokovic and Fabio Fognini will pack Stadium 2, where many of the high-profile doubles teams ply their trade.

Still not on board is Rafael Nadal, who has played it 11 times – four of those with Marc Lopez, with titles in 2010 and 2012. 

If he plays, it won’t be with Lopez, who already is entered with Feliciano Lopez.

Roger Federer? He also has played it 11 times, going back to 2000. Most recently, he did countryman Michel Lammer a solid and paired up with him for a first-round loss in 2015. That was actually the last time Federer played doubles in an ATP Tour event.

The Swiss (who reached the singles final in 2018) reached the final in 2002 with Max Mirnyi. He also reached final in 2011 and the semis in 2014 with Stan Wawrinka.

Let’s call that possibility … remote. The last time Federer played any (non Hopman Cup mixed) doubles was a loss in a Davis Cup relegation tie against the Netherlands in Sept. 2015,  with Marco Chiudinelli.

(Add Gaël Monfils and Adrian Mannarino to this list, as the deadline is now past. But note that the Zverevs, Ryan Harrison-Kei Nishikori and Tiafoe-Paes are not yet in, with only 21 teams claiming direct entry).

Novak Djokovic and Fabio Fognini

Fognini is an accomplished doubles player, in the top 10 just a few years ago.

Djokovic has played just once this year, reaching the Doha semifinals with brother Marko and losing a 15-13 match tiebreak to eventual champions Pierre-Hugues Herbert and David Goffin.

He has played doubles at Indian Wells five times before – most recently in 2017, when he and countryman Viktor Troicki upset top seeds Herbert and Nicolas Mahut before losing in the quarterfinals

Juan Martin del Potro and Maximo Gonzalez

Del Potro, who plans to finally start his 2019 season next week in Delray Beach, is teaming up with a countryman who is a top-40 doubles player (and at a career-high ranking). 

He’s also defending his singles title – and 1,000 ranking points.

The two have played together occasionally – notably at the Rio Olympics, where they lost in three sets to gold-medalists Nadal and Lopez.

Like Djokovic, del Potro also has played the doubles at Indian Wells five previous times – with several partners: David Nalbandian, Marin Cilic, Leonardo Mayer, Leander Paes and in 2018, Grigor Dimitrov.

The match with Cilic in 2014 was a notable one, because del Potro was pretty much hitting all one-handed backhands. He was testing out his wrist to see if it could hold up in singles. But he ended up withdrawing from the singles and was out the rest of the season.

Milos Raonic – Jérémy Chardy

Raonic played doubles in a similar situation in Brisbane – to open the new season. He and Robert Lindstedt beat the Bryan brothers in their first match back together before losing in the quarterfinals.

The Canadian played the Indian Wells doubles six straight years from 2011 to 2016 (with Feliciano Lopez, Kevin Anderson, Lopez again, Ernests Gulbis – they defeated Djokovic and Krajinovic before losing to Federer and Wawrinka), Aisam Qureshi and John Isner).

He and Chardy have never played together.

Mischa and Alexander Zverev

This one is up in the air, given both Zverevs seem not to be 100 per cent. Zverev has played just two Davis Cup matches against Hungary since the Australian Open. And Mischa has played just one match this year – a first-round loss to young Aussie Alexei Popyrin in Melbourne.

Both are entered in singles – and together in doubles – in 10 days at the Acapulco tournament.

This would be the third straight year the brother team up in the desert. They also have entered Miami.

Frances Tiafoe / Leander Paes

Tiafoe plays doubles somewhat regularly (10 tournaments in 2018), without any notable success although he and Denis Kudla reached the semifinals in D.C. last summer.

This will be the 20th appearance at this event for Paes, going all the way back to 1996.

Dominic Thiem / Steve Johnson

Thiem was held back a bit by illness and was late getting down to South America for his fave Golden Swing. 

But it seems he’s getting right back to his double-time schedule.

The Austrian is in the doubles semi in Buenos Aires this week with his friend Diego Schwartzman. It’s his first doubles event of the season; he played eight in 2018 and lost in the first round of Indian Wells with Philipp Petzschner.

The pair played twice last year, in Rome on Clay and in Halle on grass. They won a tight one to the Zverev brothers in Rome before going down to Pavic and Marach, 16-14 in the match tiebreak. They’re also signed on for Miami.

Stefanos Tsitsipas and Wesley Koolhof

Tsitsipas

Seems an odd pairing, but perhaps the two have some history together.

At a career-best No. 40 this week, Koolhof played the Australian swing with regular partner Marcus Daniell, and had a wild card into Rotterdam with Jürgen Melzer this week.

Tsitsipas played some mixed doubles with countrywoman Maria Sakkari at Hopman Cup, but nothing else so far this season.

He played just about every week though 2017, when he was on the Challenger circuit and in 12 events (11 at the ATP level) in 2018, winning just four matches.

2018 doubles teams

Roberto Bautista-Agut/David Ferrer
John Isner / Jack Sock
Juan Martin del Potro / Grigor Dimitrov
Gilles Muller / Sam Querrey
Dominic Thiem / Philipp Petzschner (WC)
Alexander Zverev / Mischa Zverev
Philipp Kohlschreiber / Lucas Pouille

Plus Diego Schwartzman … Pablo Carreño Busta … Ryan Harrison … Fabio Fognini … Steve Johnson … Fernando Verdasco and Albert Ramos-Viñolas ….

2017 doubles teams

John Isner / Jack Sock
Novak Djokovic / Viktor Troicki
Rafael Nadal / Bernard Tomic (that was an … epic meetup)
Kohlschreiber /Thiem
Zverev / Zverev
Muller / Querrey
Andy Murray / Dan Evans
del Potro / Paes (WC)
Dimitrov / Stan Wawrinka
Marin Cilic / Nikola Mektic
Steve Johnson / Vasek Pospisil
Roberto Bautista Agut / Fernando Verdasco
Tomas Berdych / Philipp Petzschner
Nick Kyrgios / Nenad Zimonjic (WC)

Easy as pie for Raonic over Zverev

MELBOURNE, Australia – Alexander Zverev and Milos Raonic have both been No. 3 in the world. 

But the seven-years-younger German already has more career titles. And he’s currently ranked 13 spots above the 28-year-old Canadian.

But here’s the thing.

Raonic has been in a Wimbledon final. And but for a truly poorly-timed adductor injury in Melbourne in 2016, he might well have been in the Australian Open final that year as well. He’s made five other Slam quarterfinals, and Wimbledon semi in 2014.

So on resumé, in these supremely significant circumstances, he probably shouldn’t be the underdog against Zverev. The 21-year-old German still battles to be considered a Grand Slam contender, despite the brilliance of his early career.

And so it was on Monday at the Australian Open, when form held

For two sets, Zverev was tight as a drum. His second serve failed him. But even Zverev made it competitive in the third set, it was too far gone. And in unexpectedly routine fashion, Raonic is into another Australian Open quarter final after a 6-1, 6-1, 7-6 (5) victory he wrapped up in less than two hours.

“I played bad. The first two sets especially I played horrible. Yeah, I mean, it’s just tough to name on one thing. I didn’t serve well, didn’t play well from the baseline. Against a quality player like him, it’s tough to come back from that,” said Zverev, whose racket destruction at 1-6, 1-4 was arguably the most havoc he created all day.

Zverev remains stuck at one career Grand Slam quarterfinal (or better) appearance – last year at the French Open.

For Raonic, it’s No. 9.

Staying positive

A bit of modern sculpture crafted by Alexander Zverev after going down two breaks to Raonic in the second set of their fourth-round match Monday.

From a tight quarterfinal loss to Daniil Medvedev in his season opening tournament in Brisbane a few weeks ago, Raonic came into Melbourne with a fresh mindset.

“I think it was all really emotional and mental. I believe I had eight break chances in those first two sets against (Medvedev). So I had more than enough opportunities to make the most of it. … But then I got a little bit too down on myself, and I think that sort of shined a light on something that I really have to do differently at this event,” Raonic said.

“And I think I have worked on that, and I think I have also had to play against top players where I couldn’t afford to be undisciplined in that regard.”

Tough draw turns into good draw

After coming up against the dangerous Nick Kyrgios in the first round, and the dangerous Stan Wawrinka in the second round, Raonic got a (relative) breather against the unseeded Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

Drawing Zverev, when the possibilities for the No. 16 seed in the round of 16 were Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Zverev, also qualifies as a break.

So does getting No. 28 seed Lucas Pouille. The Frenchman is his first Slam quarterfinal since the 2016 US Open.

For Pouille, just getting there after five first-round losses in his first five trips to Melbourne is a victory. One of those defeats, in 2016, was inflicted upon him by Raonic,.

The Canadian is 3-0 in his career against the Frenchman. And that includes two victories in Australia.

Shades of 2016 for Raonic

This is Raonic’s best Australian tennis since that 2016 tournament, when he was up two sets to one against Andy Murray before an adductor injury scuttled his chances in the semifinals. He also had defeated Federer in the final of Brisbane leading up to it.

There wasn’t much the trainer could do for Raonic’s adductor in that 2016 semi against Murray. He didn’t retire, but he couldn’t run.

It’s hard to accurately convey how devastated Raonic was after that Murray match, especially compared to his generally composed demeanour in defeat.

Even his hair was drooping.

Normally strong on eye contact, he looked down disconsolately between responses He avoided anyone’s direct gaze as he tried – only somewhat successfully – to keep his emotions in check. 

“Probably the most heartbroken I felt on court, but that’s what it is,” he said then.

Through three years of trials and tribulations since then, the Canadian feels he’s a better player now. But he admits that many aspects of the competitive environment seemed easier in 2016.

Raonic played spectacular tennis that year. And it was crowd-pleasing tennis, too.

Your average tennis fan would posit that’s a factual impossibility. But the crowd reactions proved otherwise.

” I think back then I just found some situations a little bit easier to deal with, because I had three or two good years from 2014 to 2015 before that, and it was sort of — you don’t have to think about things as much. Instinct takes over when you have played that many matches consecutively,” he said.

“Now you always have to think about things a bit more because you’re always trying to search for that rhythm, that – sort of – what should you do. Whereas in those situations I don’t think I was really asking myself. I was trusting a lot more.”

We’ll see what the rest of the 2019 edition holds for him.

Nadal out of Paris, Djokovic back at No. 1

The order of play Wednesday in Paris looked pretty box-office.

Roger Federer was to wrap up the day session against Milos Raonic, with No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal opening the night session against countryman Fernando Verdasco.

In the end, fans didn’t get to see either one.

Federer received a walkover from Raonic, who cited a right elbow injury. The Canadian had survived a three-tiebreak victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the first ound Tuesday night.

As for Nadal, who hasn’t played since the US Open because of a recurrence of his patella tendonitis, his Paris Masters was over before it began.

The knee seems fine – better than he had anticipated.

But an abdominal injury has popped up in the last few days. And so, he pulled out, replaced by lucky loser Malek Jaziri.

Risk of a abdominal tear

Here’s what Nadal said during a press conference late Wednesday afternoon – the mere announcement of which presaged the worst.

“I arrived here a couple of days ago. As everybody knows, I have been out of competition since the US Open. I come back, and it was great to be here in Paris for a couple of days. And I enjoy it. I feel myself, in terms of tennis, better than what I really thought one week ago,” he said.

“But the last few days I started to feel a little bit the abdominal, especially when I was serving. I was checking with the doctor, and the doctor says it’s recommended to not play. Because if I continue, the abdominal maybe can break, and can be a major thing. And I really don’t want that. It has been a tough year until that moment, in terms of injuries. So I want to avoid drastic things.

“Maybe I can play today. But the doctor says if I want to play the tournament – if I want to try to win the tournament – the abdominal will break for sure. So it would be not fair, and not good for me – for nobody – to go inside the court knowing probably the full tournament will not be possible to play,” Nadal added. “Of course I am not happy, but of course I have to accept and stay positive.”

Djokovic returns to No. 1

With the withdrawal, Novak Djokovic will return to the No. 1 ranking next Monday.

That will be true, regardless of how far he goes into the Paris Masters draw.

He will be the first player to be ranked outside the top 20, and be No. 1 in the same season since Marat Safin in 2000. Safin was as lot as No. 38 that season, before going all the way to the top of the rankings.

Djokovic began the season ranked No. 14 and dropped as low as No. 22 before the French Open. At that point, he was 7,110 points behind Nadal in the standings.

Since then, he has returned to full form and has won Wimbledon, Cincinnati, the US Open and the Shanghai Masters. Since Djokovic didn’t play after Wimbledon a year ago because of the ongoing elbow injury for which he had surgery in February, he was able to make up a lot of ground.

Concurrently Nadal, struggling with his knee, dropped points he was defending as the US Open and Beijing champion in 2017.

paris

There may be an element of the precautionary with his, as the ATP Tour Finals begin in less than two weeks. As well, Djokovic is in full form despite seeming a bit under the weather in his second-round win over Joao Sousa in Monday. He had a day off Wednesday to help him recover.

So Nadal was faced with the likelihood that if he wanted to retain the No. 1 ranking for at least one more week – assuming this was a factor at all – he might well have to win the tournament despite Djokovic having the tougher road in the bottom half.

Knowing he wasn’t in a great position to do that and risking tearing the abdominal in the process, Nadal wisely erred on the side of caution.

In addition to Raonic and Nadal, Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics also withdrew from the tournament Wednesday. That gave No. 13 seed Fabio Fognini of Italy a walkover.

So Federer and Fognini will be on even terms when they meet in the third round.

(Screenshots of Nadal from TennisTV)