NEW YORK • A dejected Rafael Nadal pulled out of his Indian Wells semi-final against his great rival Roger Federer on Saturday with a right knee injury and said he will turn his attention to getting fit for the clay-court season.
The world No. 2 Spaniard, who has battled knee tendinitis and other injuries throughout his career, confirmed he will not compete at this week's Miami Masters, targeting a return to competition in Monte Carlo from April 14 to 21.
"What I'm going to do is go back home and try to do a smooth transition to clay, try to be 100 per cent for the first event, that's going to be Monte Carlo for me," said the 32-year-old.
Nadal had made it to the last four of Indian Wells without dropping a set, so it was especially devastating when knee pain flared up during his 7-6 (7-2), 7-6 (7-2) quarter-final victory over Russian Karen Khachanov on Friday.
He soldiered through to what would have been a 39th career meeting with Federer, but said he knew when he practised on Saturday morning that he would not be able to play to an adequate standard.
Federer, bidding for his 101st career title and a record sixth Indian Wells crown, received a walkover into this morning's (Singapore time) final, where he will play Dominic Thiem, a 7-6 (7-3), 6-7 (3-7), 6-4 victor over Milos Raonic in Saturday's only semi-final.
The 37-year-old Swiss legend appeared in the stadium after the Thiem-Raonic match to give an on-court interview for the fans.
Nadal leads their rivalry 23-15, but Federer has won five straight, most recently in the final of the Shanghai Masters in 2017.
"We've had so many epic battles, and yes, I know that every one we have now could be our last," said Federer.
"So was this our chance for the last one? I really hope not, and I really believe at the level he's playing and I'm still going, there are definitely going to be more."
It is a huge blow for Nadal, who was looking forward to a relatively healthy campaign after coping with multiple injuries last year.
Even with all his problems, he has no intention of giving up playing on hard courts, the surface for two of the four Grand Slam events.
"My goal is to play on all the surfaces," an emotional Nadal said. "I'm just going to keep going. All the things that are in my hands I am doing well. The things that I can't control, I can't control."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES