Eyes on the prize: A 31st Masters 1000 crown will be out of reach for Nadal until the clay season

When injuries strike as often and as severely as they have in men’s tennis over the past eight months, the only thing that suffers more than the players dealing with them is the quality of the tournaments that said players were meant to take part in. From the vantage point of our couches, we who follow the sport religiously are extraordinarily attuned to that reality, having witnessed the latest two Grand Slams and the most recent edition of the Paris Masters, among other instantiations of this double-faced issue. Lamentably, the 2018 BNP Paribas Open may end up in a similarly drab state: Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, David Goffin, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Richard Gasquet have all been forced to cancel the trip to the California desert over injury concerns.

Nadal has been ruled out of Indian Wells and Miami by an ongoing leg problem which—in conjunction with the handiwork of Marin Cilic—halted his Australian Open at the quarter-final stage. He was meant to play the Mexican Open in Acapulco last week but didn’t feel ready for his first-round match after experiencing “sharp pain” in his leg during his final training session beforehand. Apparently, so distressing was it for Nadal to pull out of Acapulco that he wept for two hours upon realizing that he had no other choice; this (presumably embellished) claim originates from Alejandro Burillo, owner and president of the group who organizes the Mexican Open. The 2017 Acapulco finalist issued a statement on Friday explaining his plight, and made no mention of any such waterworks:

Hola a todos. Lamentablemente me veo obligado a escribiros esto, pero se confirmaron mis peores presagios y al final la…

Opslået af Rafa Nadal på 2. marts 2018

Nadal comes across here as disappointed, if circumspect. My guess is that the Spaniard has subordinated the opportunity cost of missing Acapulco plus the Sunshine Swing to the importance of being in tiptop shape for the clay season, for he will be under great pressure to defend the monstrous tally of points he accrued at various European venues last Spring.

Taking the usual place of Nadal as high-profile victim of a knee injury is Stan Wawrinka, whose presence will also be missed at Indian Wells and Miami. In February, Wawrinka chose a scattergun approach to regaining his form, entering tournaments in Sofia, Rotterdam and Marseille for some sorely needed competitive match-play. It didn’t serve him as desired. He plans to pick up the threads on his season when the tour transitions to clay next month:

Two other players for whom a knee injury has wiped out any prospect of participating in Indian Wells are Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet. Tsonga has not played since limping out of a semi-final in Montpellier three weeks ago. Gasquet lost the final of the same tournament; he travelled straight afterwards to Rotterdam, only managing to complete four games of his round of 32 match there, and thence to Dubai, where he was beaten soundly by Borna Coric. It hasn’t been confirmed whether the French pair will be fit for Miami.

Whereas wear and tear is the chief contributor to the injuries discussed thus far, David Goffin can blame a freak accident for keeping him on the sidelines. To recap: Early in the second set of a last-four encounter with Grigor Dimitrov at the Rotterdam Open, Goffin miscued a backhand volley and before he could divert the path of the ball (to do so would’ve required reflexes possessed by no known terrestrial being), it hit him square in the eye. Goffin’s vision currently isn’t where it needs to be for him to play at Indian Wells, therefore he’ll delay his comeback for another fortnight.

Additionally, Aljaž Bedene, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Robin Haase, Paolo Lorenzi, Yen-Hsun Lu, Florian Mayer, and Andreas Seppi withdrew from Indian Wells, while Novak Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios, neither of whom has played very much tennis this year outside of Australia, are both expected to return at the event with healed elbows.

UPDATE: Nick Kyrgios pulled out of Indian Wells on Friday (9/3) night, his elbow again proving troublesome. Tsonga will not play Miami.