Abu Dhabi // By noon Wednesday, workers at Abu Dhabi International Tennis Centre had already removed the larger-than-life action photo of Rafael Nadal from the walls inside the stadium, leaving a blank space next to where the images of the five other competitors were already posted.
At least the national flag remains the same.
Receiving the sweetest possible holiday greeting, the world No 11 Nicolas Almagro was added to the stacked field at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, replacing his Spanish countryman Rafael Nadal, who withdrew because of a stomach virus.
Nadal, a two-time winner at Zayed Sports City, set off a scramble on Christmas Day when he notified organisers he would not be able to play.
Tournament officials started working the telephones and left no option unexplored, even contacting the world No 2 Roger Federer, who has a home in the UAE.
He declined, having just completed a six-event tour of South America earlier this month.
"Roger plans his schedule far in advance and he just came off an extensive tour," said Greg Sproule, the Middle East managing director for IMG, which runs the event. Almagro, 27, who has 12 career wins and finished the year ranked in the world top 15 for the third successive time, also was on the emergency shortlist of reserves.
Almagro replaced Nadal on the draw sheet as the No 2 seeded player, which means he was given a bye into the semi-finals on Friday.
He has recent history of standing in for his illustrious compatriot; at the Davis Cup final in Prague last month, Almagro was pressed into service for Spain and lost a pair of four-set singles matches, first to Tomas Berdych and then to Radek Stepanek in the decisive Sunday match of the Czechs' 3-2 victory.
Even minus Nadal, the 11-time grand slam winner, the Abu Dhabi event features six of the top 11 in the rankings.
"We know a lot of tournaments around the world that would crave that sort of stature," Sproule said.
He said officials considered giving Nadal's spot in the bracket to the third-seeded Murray, who plays tonight and must win three times to claim the title, but organisers did not want to disappoint fans who purchased tickets for the opening day expecting the Briton to play in the 5pm match.
"The truth is that we promoted that Andy would be playing on Day 1," Sproule said.
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