Fans waiting to see Rafael Nadal back on the court will have to keep waiting—he will not be participating at the Australian Open. This could be a bad sign for the player's future.
Nadal has not played professional since the second round of Wimbledon at the end of June. Since then, a knee injury has kept him out of the U.S. Open, the Summer Olympics and now he will not go to Melbourne.
This is not only highly disappointing, but it is concerning. The Spaniard announced his withdrawal from the tournament in a statement that said the cause was his recent stomach virus (via Yahoo!):
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.
However, Nicolas Almagro had a different take on why he is still out:
We were talking with him and he told me he’s not 100 percent right now and wants to wait a little bit. He doesn't want to play in Melbourne, it's five sets, his knee's not really good, he's not ready for that.
Although the virus could have something to do with a lack of practice, Nadal announced that he will not participate in the Australian Open almost a month before it was set to take place.
Either this is a very bad illness or there are other factors at play. Either way, it is not a good thing.
Almagro's theory could be an issue if Nadal's knee is healing slower than anticipated. While it is smart to rest up if not completely healthy, the extended absence means that there are still issues.
For a player that is quickly moving past his prime, this could mean that he will never be the same.
Throughout his career, Nadal has utilized his athleticism to get all over the court in a hurry. Without the same cutting ability, he will lose much of what makes him so dominant.
In addition, the extended time off will certainly be a problem when he does come back. Even with a lot of practice, there is nothing quite like participating in a real tournament.
Conditioning is certain to be a problem in his first few matches after the long absence.
The good news is that the next major tournament is the French Open. If he can get a feel for his surroundings, the seven-time champion can take care of business as he has so often on clay.
However, things will certainly be difficult from the start. Nadal will be rusty and not as strong when he first returns.
Hopefully, this period will only be short-lived as he tries to once again be one of the top players in the world.