Roger Federer has paid a heartfelt tribute to Rafael Nadal after injury ruined what would have been the 39th match of their storied careers.
The World No. 2 Nadal hobbled out of Indian Wells ahead of the semi-finals to send Federer into a title clash with Dominic Thiem.
Nadal, whose longstanding right knee trouble flared up in his quarter-final victory over Karen Khachanov, couldn’t take the court for the blockbuster semi-final with Swiss great Federer.
“I wanted to try my best to be competitive today,” a dejected Nadal said.
“I warmed up today in the morning, and I felt that my knee was not enough good to compete at the level that I need to compete, to play semi-finals match of this event.”
Hours later, Federer took to social media with a touching message to Nadal.
“Sad we couldn’t face off in another epic matchup, but hopefully we have a few more to come. Get better soon Rafa,” Federer posted, along with a video montage of some of their matches over the years.
— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) March 16, 2019
Federer, seeded fourth as he pursues a record sixth title in the California desert, will battle 25-year-old Austrian Thiem, who is seeking his first title in one of the ATP’s prestigious Masters 1000 events.
Nadal withdraws from Miami as well
Nadal, who has battled knee tendinitis and other injuries throughout his career, confirmed he won’t compete at next week’s Miami Masters, targeting a return to competition at Monte Carlo from April 14-21 instead.
“What I’m going to do is come back home and try to do a smooth transition to clay, try to be 100 percent for the first event, that’s going to be Monte Carlo for me,” he said.
It’s particularly devastating since Nadal was looking forward to a relatively healthy 2019 campaign after coping with multiple injuries last year.
He appeared to be on the verge of tears on Saturday as he spoke to the media.
Nadal reached the final at the Australian Open, and while he lost in straight sets to Novak Djokovic he said it was a positive sign after he had to pull the plug early on his 2018 season.
His run at the first Grand Slam of the year marked his return to competition for the first time since a similar knee problem forced him to retire from his US Open semi-final against Juan Martin del Potro in September.
He underwent surgery on his ankle to remove an intra-articular loose body in November and only resumed training in December.
‘Tough for me to accept’
While Nadal said he feels knee pain “almost always”, in the face of this latest setback he insisted: “My goal doesn’t change”.
“Even if sometimes it’s tough for me to accept all these things that I am going through during all my career, sometimes I feel sad because I feel always in disadvantage compared with all my opponents in terms of preparation and in terms of practice and sometimes under competition,” an emotional Nadal said.
“But at the same time, in the other hand, I went through fantastic moments and still going with that feeling a lot of times.
“So I’m just going to keep going. I’m just going to keep doing the things that work well for me and accepting that sometimes these issues can happen.
“All the things that are in my hands I am doing well. The things that I can’t control, I can’t control.”