Tennis

Nadal: I really wasn't ready to play

Spanish World No. 1 pulls out of Tour Finals after knee gives up on him

The spirit was as strong as ever but Rafael Nadal's troublesome knee failed him in the end as the Spaniard quit the ATP Finals after a painful defeat by Belgium's David Goffin yesterday morning (Singapore time).

Nadal, at 31 the oldest player to finish a year ranked No. 1, fought until the last point, saving four match-points in a compelling group clash, before losing 7-6 (7/5), 6-7 (4/7), 6-4 in two hours and 37 minutes.

World No. 8 Goffin, the first player from Belgium to qualify for the year-ending tournament in its 48-year history, was a bundle of nerves at times but finally steadied himself to put Nadal out of his misery with his 14th ace.

Nadal could be seen grimacing as the match wore on, especially when he was forced wide or low, but he still managed to scrap his way back from 4-1 down in the decider, despite apparently playing on one leg.

Minutes after defeat, the 16-time Grand Slam champion told reporters that he was pulling out of the tournament.

"My season is finished. Yeah, I had the commitment with the event, with the city, with myself. I tried hard. I tried to be ready to play. But I am really not ready to play," said Nadal, whose right knee flared up at the recent Paris Masters.

"It's about the pain," he added. "I cannot hold with enough power to keep playing. I tried, but seriously it was a miracle to be very close in the score during the match. It really doesn't make sense."

The Mallorcan, whose career has been plagued by tendonitis, made a stunning comeback from a wrist injury this year when he reached the Australian Open final, then claimed a 10th French Open title after a three-year Grand Slam drought.

I tried, but seriously it was a miracle to be very close in the score during the match. It really doesn’t make sense. Rafael Nadal

He then went on to win the US Open and reclaim the world's top ranking for the first time since 2014.

"I really believed that I don't deserve after this great season to spend two more days on court with this terrible feeling, that's all," said Nadal, who will try to recover for the start of next season.

He added: "I know all the things that happened in the past when I had these things, and I know the treatment that I had to do.

"I know the periods of time that I need to work. Then if the treatment works or not, we will see."

Goffin completed a great day for first-time qualifiers after Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov prevailed 6-3, 5-7, 7-5 in the so-called "battle of the backhands" with Austrian Dominic Thiem at the 02 Arena.

It was a shame that his first win against a world No. 1 was overshadowed by Nadal's misfortune because the nimble Belgian thoroughly deserved his win, even if he nearly blew it.

"It's the best win of my career," said Goffin, who will lead Belgium in the Davis Cup final against France later this month. "It was tough even if he was not moving 100 per cent."

GOFFIN BETTER

Goffin was the better player throughout. He broke Nadal's serve twice in the first set, only to hand back the advantage on both occasions with lame double-faults.

A crunching forehand winner at 5-5 in the tie-break earned him a set point and Nadal then dumped a backhand into the net.

Another clean winner gave him a 5-3 lead in the second set but again he double-faulted when serving for the match.

His first match-point arrived in the next game but he missed a forehand. Goffin had three more when Nadal served at 5-6, 0-40 but the Spaniard produced two magical winners to stay alive before rolling through the tie-break.

Goffin broke twice to take control of the decider and withstood Nadal's last stand to claim victory. - WIRE SERVICES

Rafael Nadallondon