x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Farewell to the top four

It will come as no surprise to those advocating a less demanding itinerary for the world's leading tennis players that none of the top four competed in yesterday's semi-finals of the Paris Masters.

It will come as no surprise to those advocating a less demanding itinerary for the world's leading tennis players that none of the top four competed in yesterday's semi-finals of the Paris Masters - the last event they are compelled to attend before doing battle in the Masters Cup, which starts in Shanghai next Sunday.

Rafael Nadal, the world No 1, felt pain in his right knee after losing the first set of his quarter-final with Russia's Nikolay Davydenko and the Spaniard took the view that it would be crazy to continue with the action in Shanghai just over a week away. Roger Federer, the Swiss master whom Nadal recently replaced at the head of the rankings, had already packed up his rackets by then, complaining of a back injury before his match against the American James Blake and not wanting to take any risks before returning to Shanghai were he emerged triumphant 12 months ago - his fourth Masters Cup success in five years.

Novak Djokovic, the world No 3, had departed a round earlier to home favourite Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the young Serbian falling well short of his normal form, while Britain's Andy Murray, the world No 4, was sent packing by Argentina's David Nalbaldian in the best of Friday's quarter-finals. Murray was probably the only one of the top four licking his wounds afterwards because he had been seeking to make history by becoming the first man to win three successive Masters Series events after his victories in Cincinnati and Madrid.

But it is surely a blessing in disguise that his impressive 14-match winning streak ended well in advance of today's Paris final. The young Scot is much fitter now than in the past but the fatigue factor is massive at this time of the year and he will arrive in Shanghai much fresher after his straight-sets loss to Nalbandian - a result that should not inflict too much damage on Murray's current state of buoyancy after a strong end to the season.

Nadal, who was booed briefly by the Parisian crowd, was apologetic after his withdrawal but did not let that get in the way of his desire to deliver another strong message against the danger of burn-out to the tennis authorities. Urging the Association of Tennis Professionals to look into the problem of subjecting their members to too much tennis, he reflected: "The speed of the ball is getting faster all the time and that makes it all very tough on the body."

He added: "I can understand the crowd being disappointed. They have paid for tickets to a see a match. I always try to be nice with the crowd and usually they are very nice with me. But it is tougher me for me than for them at the moment. I cannot play." Federer, whose decision to offer his opponent a walkover into the semi-finals means that he has failed to win a Masters Series event for the first year since 2003, was confident that he will make tomorrow's scheduled flight to Shanghai.

"I have had a lot of back pain over the years," he said. "Hopefully this one will get better over the next few days." wjohnson@thenational.ae