Before Roland-Garros, an injury interrupts Nadal’s push

SAN DIEGO — Rafael Nadal, 21-time Grand Slam singles champion, announced on Tuesday that he had a stress fracture in his rib cage and would not play for “four to six weeks.”

Such injuries can be slow to heal and difficult to treat. Nadal, 35 and back at No. 3 in the ATP Tour rankings after a stellar start to the season, looks certain to miss a significant portion of the clay-court season, including the Monte Carlo Masters and Barcelona Open next month.

Nadal is the most successful clay-court player in history, and a record 13 of his 21 major titles have come at Roland Garros, which begins on May 22.

“It’s not good news, and I didn’t expect it,” Nadal said in Spanish on Tuesday in a social media post. “I am discouraged and sad because after such a good start to the season, I was approaching a very important part of the year with very good feelings and very good results. But hey, I always had this spirit to fight. and overcome and what I’m going to do is have patience and work hard while I recover.

Nadal said he suffered a rib injury in Saturday’s grueling three-set victory in the BNP Paribas Open semi-final against fellow 18-year-old Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz. Nadal struggled to breathe without pain during the closing stages of the match, which was played in windy conditions in Indian Wells, California. He received treatment on the pitch but, still unsure of the severity of his injury, opted to play in Sunday’s final against Taylor. Fritz from the United States.

Fritz, 24, beat Nadal 6-3, 7-6 (5) to claim the most important title of his career. Nadal was clearly diminished: he was serving at slower speeds than usual. He took a medical time-out off the pitch after the first set and was treated on the pitch at the end of the second, grimacing as he lay on his stomach during a changeover and a tour coach worked on him. But Nadal still came within two points of forcing a decisive third set.

He underwent medical tests on his return to Spain on Monday and is now back in an all-too-familiar mode: rehabilitating from an injury. Nadal has dealt with injuries throughout his remarkable career and missed most of the second half of the 2021 season due to a chronic foot condition after losing to Novak Djokovic in the Roland semi-finals. Garros. He caught the coronavirus in December but recovered quickly and won his first 20 singles matches of the season, including the Australian Open title.

But this is a new type of injury for Nadal, which could reoccur and, according to retired orthopedic surgeon Bill Mallon, could take longer than four to six weeks to heal. “You can’t put your rib in a cast,” Mallon said.

Treatment options are limited, although some patients use bone stimulation devices, which use electrical or ultrasound pulses to try to speed healing, said Nicholas DiNubile, an American orthopedic surgeon. Nadal has never played Roland-Garros without participating in a preliminary event on clay. But it could be a race against time to play the Madrid Open or the Italian Open in early May.

Before announcing his injury, Nadal had pulled out of this week’s Miami Open, a Masters 1000 event on hard court. Djokovic, back at No. 1, will also miss it due to the US travel ban for unvaccinated foreigners. But Fritz, the rising American star who played in Sunday’s final despite a right ankle injury, is expected to play.

“With treatment and a late start, he should be ready to go,” Paul Annacone, one of his coaches, said on Tuesday.

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