Rafael Nadal's dreams of ending a splendid year in fitting fashion with a first Masters Cup triumph in Shanghai next week have been shattered by a combination of fatigue and a knee injury sustained in Paris last week. Nadal would have been fancied to take the annual end-of-season showpiece which has been dominated in recent years by Roger Federer, the Swiss who he replaced as world No 1 a couple of months ago.
The Spaniard's withdrawal from the eight-man field, however, increases the chances of Federer, who recently won his fifth successive US Open, adding a fifth Masters Cup to his array of honours, providing his back injury, which also brought about an early departure from Paris, does not turn out to be too serious. Having been beaten in the finals of the French Open and Wimbledon by Nadal, the absence of the Spaniard will certainly increase Federer's determination to battle through the pain barrier to defend his title.
Britain's Andy Murray, beaten in the Flushing Meadows final by Federer but as strong as any player on the ATP tour in the closing weeks of the season, will also be given greater belief by the absence of the powerful Nadal, as will the third-ranked Novak Djokovic of Serbia. Nadal, 22, made what he said was one of the toughest decisions of his career when he decided to withdraw but he was mindful that the Davis Cup final between Spain and Argentina takes place only five days after the conclusion of the Shanghai tournament.
Unlike many of his counterparts in recent years, he has chosen to put the interests of his country ahead of personal glory. Nadal, who won his fourth French Open title and triumphed at Wimbledon during the summer, said: "It has been a long and difficult year where I managed to obtain great results. "I have mentioned on various occasions that the tennis calendar has been extremely hard with players performing practically every single week.
"This forces we players to put pressure on our bodies, making it impossible for a top-level player to be 100 per at each event." Nadal said the situation was made easier for him by the guarantee of ending the year as world No 1. "I don't know if this has been a mistake or not but the fact is that with the goal achieved I was able to take one of the most difficult and painful decisions. "I know that many people were speculating about this matter and even though I have not yet done any tests, I can honestly say I have taken the right decision.
"I want to recover and get ready for the Davis Cup final in Mar del Plata, Argentina. That is another reason for not going to Shanghai." Gilles Simon, the world No 9 from France, is the beneficiary of Nadal's withdrawal and will complete line-up for the tournament which begins on Sunday. email@example.com