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TennisBalls News • Rafa Pulls Out Of Paris Hurt • Shapovalov To Face Novak in Finals

By Alix Ramsay

Bercy has got it in for Rafa Nadal. Year after year, he has tried to play there, to win there, but year after year, something has gone wrong.

On Saturday, just a few moments before he was due to face Denis Shapovalov in the Rolex Paris Masters semi-finals – with a shot at Novak Djokovic in the final, should he have won – he pulled up hurt.

In his morning warm-up, all had been well. As ever, he was going through a few serves to round thing off and then, just before he was about to head back for a shower, he served again and felt something nasty in one of his abdominal muscles. This was not good.

He consulted the medics; he had a scan. He waited for a bit and then had another scan. The first test was inconclusive; the second did not look right. He went back on court and tried again. No, that muscle still hurt. This really wasn’t good. A wee while later, he was talking to the press and looking glum.

“Today, in the morning, I had been practicing well,” he said. “And in one of the last serves of the warm-up, I felt something in the abdominal. And immediately I came back to the doctor here to do the echography and to check with the doctor, and the doctor told me that we need to wait a little bit more.

“So I waited for one hour and a half more to do a second test. And we did it, we saw something on the image, probably a small strain. And then I tried to come back on court to practice again and to see how the things are going with my serve, but I still feeling the pain there.

“So playing is difficult today for different reasons. For the first reason, because I think that abdominal don’t allow me to serve at the level that I need to serve to be competitive. And second thing because when there is a strain in a muscle that is making a lot of effort in every single serve, so the chance to increase that problem is big.”

He knew what he was talking about, too. Back in 2009 at the US Open, he knew he had an abdominal strain, a teeny, weeny tear of about a quarter of an inch in old money. Pah, he thought. He could play through pain. So he did. And it all went horribly wrong.

“I started the tournament with, if I remember, around 6, 7, millimetres of strain and I keep playing, I keep playing,” he recalled. “And that was the year that I lost the semi-finals against Del Potro. So I finished the tournament with 28-millimeter strain, so have been a big, big thing after that. I remember well because I couldn’t play semi-finals of Davis Cup that was against Israel in that moment.

“So for me, it took almost a month outside of the tennis court, so we don’t want to repeat that.”

For all that the newly married Nadal is a very happy man, a man who claims not to care whether he finishes the year ranked No.1 or No.2, he came to Paris on a mission. But the AccorHotels Arena just doesn’t work for him. Sure, the crowds are great and the support he gets is fantastic but the court is fast, the bounce is low and at this time of year, that is not a good mix.

Yet this year, he came to Bercy in a different frame of mind and with a new plan of attack. Thanks to his wedding arrangements, he had had some time off. Not that he spent that with his new bride on honeymoon (they had their time away together before the wedding) but, rather, he spent it on the practice court. Wedding on Saturday, a day off on Sunday to start writing thank you letters for all the prezzies and then straight to the practice courts. Then it was off to Kazakhstan for an exhibition with Djoko. Then back to Paris for pre-event training. He was raring to go by the tie tournament started.

When he took to the court for the first time, post nuptials, he was as fit and as prepared as he had ever been for the RPM. He played like, it too. His draw was not easy but he got the job done. He was confident. He knew he was in pole position to stop Djoko grabbing that end-of-year ranking. And then he pulled a muscle on Saturday morning. He was gutted, in every sense of the term.

“It’s super sad moment for me,” he said, “because I have been enjoying a lot during the whole tournament, having fun on court, and feel myself in a very good shape, honestly, being in a round that put me in a position that I have been fighting for, for big things here. But I have to take that decision.”

As it stands, Djoko is 1,040 points behind Rafa in the race for the end-of-year No.1 spot. If Djoko beats Shapo on Sunday (and he has dropped just one set to the Canadian in their three previous matches), he will be 640 points behind Rafa. The ATP Finals, then, is where it will be decided. That is, of course, dependent on Rafa being fit enough to go to London.

“I go back home,” Rafa said. “I have to do what I have to do to check everything right. Not today. Not tomorrow. It needs to wait a couple of hours to be sure and to have a clear image [on the scan].

“Because on an injury on a muscle, the first few hours are so difficult to see because there’s liquid [inflammation] there and it’s difficult to see exactly how big is the issue. So, need to wait this period of time to have a clear idea about what’s going on.

“I really hope it’s nothing too big, and the doctors believe that it’s nothing too big. But, of course, if it’s big enough to not be 100 per cent recovered for in one week, it’s a chance. Hopefully is less than this.

“I hope to be ready for London. That’s the biggest goal now. But as I say before, I can’t guarantee anything because just happened today.”

Rafa loves Paris – he has won 12 of his 19 grand slam titles there – but, oh, how he must dread going back to Bercy.

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