Can Wimbledon cope without Nadal?
When Roger Federer shows up at Wimbledon next week without Rafael Nadal looking down at him from the top of the draw, it will almost feel like Laurel turned up without Hardy or Starsky without Hutch.
In an era when the Federer-Nadal showdowns are starting to become tales of Hollywood blockbusters, the Swiss will have to go it alone for the first time since the 2006 Australian Open — which the Spaniard missed with a foot injury.
The 2009 season that promised much for Nadal when he beat Federer a thrilling five-set showstopper to win his first Australian Open title in January fell apart at the seams on Friday.
Wearing a purple T-shirt and with his shoulders sagging, he told the tennis world the news it did not want to hear. “Unfortunately this year I won’t be able to play at Wimbledon,” he announced in Spanish.
While, as Serena Williams suggested, it left “a lot of guys on the men’s tour celebrating and partying, his absence will leave a gaping hole in the Wimbledon draw.
A tournament without its world number one, its top seed and its champion is a little like trying to stage the Oscars without the prized golden statuettes. It is not what sports fans would have wanted — especially on the back of the heart-stopping five set thriller he won at Wimbledon 50 weeks ago to end Federer’s five-year reign.
But that was the last of Nadal’s concerns after his body started to let him down in Madrid five weeks ago. Still, with the spectre of a record fifth consecutive Roland Garros title looming in his horizon, he was determined to make the trip to Paris.
But on the middle Sunday of the French Open his immaculate 31-0 winning streak came to a juddering halt. Robin Soderling caused one of the biggest ever upsets in the sport when he handed the Spaniard his first ever defeat on Paris’s red soil.
While to most people it seemed as if Nadal had simply failed to turn up with his A-game, the problems were running much deeper.
It seemed as if the body he had punished to the nth degree by chasing and sliding around the world’s courts had finally started to rebel against him.
“I’ve played with some problems in my knees for a few months but I always felt I’d try and try. You don’t know what your limit is … but I have now reached the limit. I was making an effort to play week after week … but I have two oedema (swelling of the knee joint), one in each knee… and now I’m going to be out and I don’t know for how long.”
As Nadal joined Britain’s Fred Perry (1937), American Don Budge (1939) and Croatia’s Goran Ivanisevic (2002) among those who failed to defend their titles, Wimbledon had no choice but to accept reality.
Nadal’s no show meant it would be the first time since the inception of the rankings in 1973 that a men’s defending champion who was also the world number one had failed to turn up at a grand slam tournament.
How will Wimbledon cope?
PHOTO: Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal gestures during a news conference at Wimbledon in London, June 19, 2009. REUTERS/John Voos