Rafael Nadal has withdrawn from a scheduled match against Karen Khachanov in Abu Dhabi to ensure maximum fitness for the upcoming Australian Open.
Nadal fell to Kevin Anderson on Friday night at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship exhibition event, with the South African triumphing 4-6 6-3 6-4 in the semifinals.
Anderson will in the final face Novak Djokovic, who beat Russian Khachanov 6-4 6-2 in the other semifinal.
Nadal and Khachanov were set to meet in a play-off for third place, yet the Spaniard decided not to take part.
“I will not play. I will take a couple of days off ahead of the new season,” he said.
“This tournament, it was a goal to be here. I am very happy to have been here. I cannot thank enough the tournament organisation for the understanding.”
His next scheduled tournament is the Brisbane International, where he is the top seed. That event begins on 30 December, although Nadal receives a first-round bye.
His caution is understandable, given his recent spate of injury-related withdrawals.
His previous competitive outing was at the US Open, where he was forced to retire during his semifinal against Juan Martin del Potro.
He then skipped the China Open and Shanghai Masters due to the same injury, before an abdominal strain forced him out of the Paris Masters and ATP Finals.
He also required surgery on his ankle immediately after withdrawing from the season-ending event in London.
“I started (training) about two weeks ago and I am taking small steps forward,” Nadal said a day earlier.
“I am just making sure I am moving forward and it’s not a step backwards. I know I have time to be ready for Melbourne at 100 percent.
“Of course I need to prove myself in competitions and hopefully, playing here (in Abu Dhabi) will help me take the first steps.”
Injury also forced Nadal to retire from his Australian Open quarterfinal against Marin Cilic, an outcome he will be hoping to avoid when he returns to Melbourne Park 12 months on.
That injury – to his upper leg – forced him off court for three months before he made a resounding return to the tour at the start of the clay-court season in April.
He would go on to win an incredible 11th title at Roland Garros in June.
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