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Ahead of French Open, an Injury Interrupts Nadal’s Surge

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SAN DIEGO — Rafael Nadal, the 21-time Grand Slam tournament singles champion, announced Tuesday that he had a stress fracture in his rib cage and wouldn’t play for “4 to 6 weeks.”

Such injuries might be slow to heal and difficult to treat. Nadal, 35 and back as much as No. 3 within the ATP Tour rankings after an excellent begin to the season, appears certain to miss a major chunk of the clay-court season, including next month’s Monte-Carlo Masters and Barcelona Open.

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

“This just isn’t excellent news, and I didn’t expect this,” Nadal said in Spanish on Tuesday in a social media post. “I’m downbeat and sad because after such an ideal begin to the season, I used to be coming to a vital a part of the yr with excellent feelings and results. But hey, I even have all the time had this spirit to fight and to beat and what I’ll do is have patience and work hard during my recovery.”

Nadal said he injured the rib during his grueling three-set victory on Saturday within the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Open over Carlos Alcaraz, his 18-year-old Spanish compatriot. Nadal struggled to breathe without pain throughout the latter stages of that match, played in blustery conditions in Indian Wells, Calif. He was treated on the court but, still unclear on the severity of his injury, he selected to play in Sunday’s final against Taylor Fritz of the USA.

Fritz, 24, defeated Nadal 6-3, 7-6 (5) to win essentially the most significant title of his profession. Nadal was clearly diminished: serving at slower speeds than usual. He took a medical timeout off court after the primary set and was treated on the court late within the second, wincing as he lay on his stomach during a changeover and a tour trainer worked on him. But Nadal still got here inside two points of forcing a decisive third set.

He underwent medical tests upon returning to Spain on Monday and is now back in an all-too-familiar mode: rehabilitating an injury. Nadal has handled injuries throughout his remarkable profession and missed a lot of the second half of the 2021 season due to a chronic foot condition after losing to Novak Djokovic within the semifinals of the French Open. 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 it is a recent style of injury for Nadal, one that would recur and, in line with the retired orthopedic surgeon Bill Mallon, could require longer than 4 to 6 weeks to heal. “You’ll be able to’t put your rib in a forged,” Mallon said.

Treatment options are limited, though some patients use bone stimulator devices, which use electrical or ultrasonic impulses to try to hurry healing, said Nicholas DiNubile, an American orthopedic surgeon. Nadal has never played within the French Open without competing in a preliminary event on clay. Nevertheless it might be a race against the clock to compete in early May within the Madrid Open or Italian Open.

Before announcing the injury, Nadal had withdrawn from this week’s Miami Open, a Masters 1000 event on a hardcourt. Djokovic, back at No. 1, may also miss it due to the USA’ travel ban on unvaccinated foreigners. But Fritz, the rising American star who played Sunday’s final despite a right ankle injury, is anticipated to play.

“With treatment and a late start, he ought to be good to go,” Paul Annacone, certainly one of his coaches, said Tuesday.

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