LONDON • 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 David Goffin on Monday.
The world No. 1 admitted he had lost his fitness battle after crashing 7-6 (7-5), 6-7 (4-7), 6-4 to the Belgian in a thrilling opening match of the end-of-season finale.
The 31-year-old came into the tournament with doubts swirling over his fitness after pulling out of the Paris Masters with a knee injury.
Initially he showed no obvious ill-effects during a roller-coaster round-robin encounter in front of a supportive crowd but eventually his injury caught up with him and forced him to admit his season is over.
"No, I am off," said Nadal.
"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.
"It is about the pain, 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."
Nadal - who has withdrawn five times in 13 previous ATP Finals, losing twice in finals - said he would work hard to be ready for the start of the next season and for the Australian Open in January.
"I know what I have to do," he said.
"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 (in order for the treatment) to work. Then if the treatment works or not, we will see.
"The good thing is it is nothing new. Everybody on my team has the right experience (to deal with the injury).
"We hope to manage it, to have the right rest, the right work, and to try to be ready for the beginning of the next season."
In the deciding set on Monday, Nadal appeared to feel discomfort in his right knee as he went two breaks down but still he refused to admit defeat, recovering a break before eventually succumbing.
"It was a tough fight until the end," said a relieved Goffin.
"Rafa is one of the strongest players mentally on the tour. I am so happy to finally find the key to win this match. It is so special to do it here."
Nadal has won 75 singles titles in his illustrious career, including 16 Grand Slams and 30 Masters events but he has yet to triumph at the ATP Finals, played on quick indoor courts rather than his favoured clay.
Nadal's withdrawal leaves Roger Federer as the only headliner standing in a tournament now looking seriously short of star power.
The ATP Finals feature the top eight fit male singles players and doubles teams that have accrued the most points throughout the 2017 season.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN
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