Rafael Nadal will miss next month’s Australian Open due to a stomach virus as his long-awaited return was put on hold again today.
The world number four missed the second half of last season with a knee injury, but had hoped to be ready in time for the season-opening grand slam in Melbourne.
That bid has been scuppered, however, by a virus that had initially forced his withdrawal from this week’s exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi.
Nadal had hoped to use the tournament as a key part of his preparation for the hard courts of the Australian Open, which begins on January 14.
But following his latest setback the 11-time grand slam winner has decided he would not be ready for the physical demands of one of the season’s showpiece events in the height of the Australian summer.
“I am sorry and very sad to announce that I will not play in the Australian Open,” he told the tournament’s official website.
“My knee is coming along okay, but a stomach virus has left me unable to get ready in time to tackle the rigours of a grand slam.
“Because of the virus, I have been unable to get any match practice and simply would not be doing myself or my friends in Australia justice if I went down there so unprepared.
“You need your body to be at its best for the Australian Open. It was a difficult decision and I am extremely disappointed to be missing such a great event.
“I love coming to Melbourne and playing on Rod Laver Arena before the Australian crowds. It brings out the best in me.
“It hurts to have to wait another 12 months before I get another chance. In the meantime, the focus is now on desperately trying to get back on the tour.”
Nadal, who won at Melbourne in 2009, has not played since suffering his shock Wimbledon second-round exit to unheralded Czech Lukas Rosol.
The 26-year-old has now targeted the Abierto Mexicano Telcel event in Acapulco, which starts on February 25 for his comeback, although he remains optimistic of returning before that.
He added on Facebook: “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.”
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said: “It is completely understandable and we really feel disappointed for him.
“But without any match practice and without sufficient lead up time on the practice court, it makes it virtually impossible for him to get his body ready. We just hope he gets better quickly and we see him back on the tour as soon as possible.
“Tennis fans across the world have been missing him. Our Australian Open staff will very much miss him and his team as he is not only a great player, but also a great guy with good people around him.
“We wish Rafa all the best. I am confident we will see him back on the tour soon and back in Australia for 2014, no doubt as one of the contenders for the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup.”
Prior to the virus, Nadal had spoken of how he was intending to use the first few weeks of his comeback simply as a means of regaining full fitness.
However, his absence, while a blow to tournament organisers and his fans, will be a boost to the other members of the big four – Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray.