Grand Slam tennis tournaments aren't the same without Rafael Nadal. Last season's U.S. Open wasn't as exciting without his trademark intensity, and the Australian Open, the first major of 2013, won't be able to replace his presence, either.
Nadal announced he would be forced to miss the marquee event due to a stomach virus, which brought his knee rehab to a screeching halt. The good news is that the withdrawal isn't due to further knee issues, but it's still disappointing for tennis fans.
"My knee is much better and the rehabilitation process has gone well as predicted by the doctors, but this virus didn't allow me to practice this past week and therefore I am sorry to announce that I will not play in Doha and the Australian Open, as we had initially scheduled."
The clay-court master and 11-time Grand Slam title winner hasn't played since getting shocked by Lukas Rosol at Wimbledon. The extended absence has caused him to fall to No. 4 in the rankings, his lowest year-end spot since 2004.
His playing style, which features more substance than flash, has won over a lot of fans during his career. It's always nice to see a player who gives 100 percent on every single point, regardless of the score, opponent or level of event.
Unfortunately, that grind-it-out approach has taken a serious toll on his 26-year-old body. All of those extended rallies, many of which he won en route to those 11 major titles, caused his knees to become a lingering issue.
That's why it was a good idea to take some time off during the second half of last season. He might never get back to full strength, but at least the layoff allowed him time to rest, needed because it was clear he wasn't performing at the same level.
Getting him back at the Australian Open would have provided a big boost to the sport. Having the big four all in attendance makes for some intriguing potential matchups. With all due respect to players like David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych, they just don't create the same type of hype.
The next Grand Slam event, the French Open, doesn't begin until late May. Hopefully for tennis fans around the globe, Nadal will be back in form by that point as he looks to win the clay-court major for the fourth-straight time.
As for now, the only guarantee is that the Australian Open will miss him.
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