Rafa hit by back setback

Spain star withdraws from ATP Cup tie against Australia, hopes to play tomorrow

Spain's Rafael Nadal (centre) at the ATP Cup sidelines before the Group B match between teammate Pablo Carreno Busta and Australia's John Millman. Carreno Busta, who replaced the injured 20-time Major champion, won 6-2, 6-4.
Spain's Rafael Nadal (centre) at the ATP Cup sidelines before the Group B match between teammate Pablo Carreno Busta and Australia's John Millman. Carreno Busta, who replaced the injured 20-time Major champion, won 6-2, 6-4.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MELBOURNE • World No. 2 Rafael Nadal pulled out of Spain's opening ATP Cup tie in Melbourne yesterday with a lower back problem with less than a week left to the Australian Open.

He was due to play the second singles against Alex de Minaur in Spain's tie against hosts Australia at Rod Laver Arena but withdrew hours before his match.

"Hi all, we have decided with #TeamSpain and my team, to not play today the first match of the @ATPCup here in #Melbourne since I have a stiff lower back," Nadal said on Twitter. "Hopefully I'll be better for Thursday."

Spain, who lost in the final of the inaugural ATP Cup last year, will play Greece tomorrow and Nadal will hope to get some match practice before the Feb 8-21 Australian Open. A spokesman for Nadal, who tied Roger Federer's 20 Grand Slam titles with his French Open win last year, said the 34-year-old preferred "not to force too much".

Nadal was replaced by Pablo Carreno Busta, who beat John Millman 6-2, 6-4 and Spain took a winning 2-0 lead before the doubles.

Nadal defeated Dominic Thiem 7-5, 6-4 on Friday in a exhibition match at Adelaide's Memorial Drive Tennis Club.

The Austrian lost again yesterday in the ATP Cup, but Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic got his season off to a perfect start with a battling win over hot-shot Denis Shapovalov.

The Serbian world No. 1, chasing a ninth Australian Open crown, came through 7-5, 7-5 against the Canadian on Rod Laver Arena.

He showed no signs of being hindered by a nasty blister on his right hand that troubled him last week and returned 30 minutes later alongside Filip Frajinovic to play the doubles rubber. The pair beat Shapovalov and Milos Raonic 7-5, 7-6 (7-4) as the defending champions took the Group A tie 2-1.

"Playing Shapo is always a great challenge on hard courts, he is such a dynamic, explosive player," said Djokovic. "I thought we both played on a pretty high level, so I'm really pleased with the way I started the season."

US Open champion Thiem, however, has gotten off to a disappointing start. He slumped 6-2, 6-4 to Italian Matteo Berrettini, who never allowed last year's Australian Open finalist to get going with his big-swinging game.

Berrettini was under pressure after Austria took the lead in their Group C clash when 100th-ranked Dennis Novak upset world No. 17 Fabio Fognini 6-3, 6-2. It sent the tie to a deciding doubles, with Thiem returning alongside Novak only to crash again, losing 6-1, 6-4.

Separately, Roger Federer will make his comeback from double knee surgery at an ATP 250 tournament in Qatar next month, after deciding to skip the year's first Major.

The 39-year-old has not played a competitive match since losing to Djokovic in the semi-finals at Melbourne Park last January.

"Roger will return to the ATP Tour at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open," his agent Tony Godsick confirmed.

Federer told Swiss broadcasterSRF: "I want to celebrate great victories again. And for that I'm ready to go the long, hard road. I've been thinking about when and where to come back for a long time. I wanted to make my comeback at a smaller tournament so that I wasn't fully in focus and where the stress is also a little less."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE


ATP CUP

Day 3: Singtel TV Ch115 & StarHub Ch209, tomorrow, 6.30am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 03, 2021, with the headline 'Rafa hit by back setback'. Subscribe