WIMBLEDON, England — Rafael Nadal withdrew from Wimbledon with an abdominal injury Thursday, on the eve of a hotly anticipated semifinal against Nick Kyrgios. It ended the chances for Nadal, the reigning Australian Open and French Open champion, to become the first player since Steffi Graf in 1988 to win all four Grand Slams in a calendar year, even though he emphasized repeatedly he had not craved that distinction.
Kyrgios, the first player to reach the final by walkover in the modern construct of Wimbledon draws that began in 1922, will oppose Sunday thrice-defending champion Novak Djokovic or Cameron Norrie, who will play their semifinal Friday.
“As you can imagine,” Nadal began during an unexpected news conference, “I am here because I have to pull out from the tournament,” soon adding, “That’s confirmed — I have a tear in the muscle.” He called it “obvious that if I keep going, the injury is going to get worse and worse,” and said, “I made my decision because I believe that I can’t win two matches [a semifinal and the final] under the circumstances.” He noted that “for respect to myself in some way, I don’t want to go out and not be competitive.”
He said, “I am very sad, and it’s been a tough one,” a decision that had consumed his entire day.
Nadal, 36 and still in the bright lights of a shining two-decade career, considered stopping during his quarterfinal match against Californian Taylor Fritz on Wednesday and said his father and sister gestured to him from the crowd during the second set that he ought to retire. When he won that epic, 3-6, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (10-4), it added to a legend amassed over the years but accelerated of late: his capacity to persevere through grinding injury or glaring inconvenience to play soaring tennis.
By Wednesday night, he said that he would have tests Thursday, that he worried about being able to play against Kyrgios in the latter’s first Grand Slam semifinal and that he saw little possibility in the way of treatment. He had left the court at one point Wednesday to receive anti-inflammatories and analgesics, he said. He still managed to elevate his form to where Fritz saw his mobility at pretty much its usual height — better than “normal players,” Fritz noted — and to where Fritz said, “I was absolutely ripping the ball in corners, and he was running and ripping them back for winners, so …”
By Thursday evening, though, Nadal noted the abdominal injury had appeared days ago but said, “The very small thing that I had days ago increased to a bigger thing” by Wednesday. He said the normal recovery time is three or four weeks. He said the injury would cause no problems in playing from the baseline but prohibitive problems when serving. “Not only I can’t serve at the right speed,” he said, “I can’t do the normal movement to serve.” He had recalibrated his serve to a slower pace to help him endure Fritz, which became part of the lore of the match.
In this decision, Nadal might have operated off the experience of the 2009 U.S. Open, a tournament he brought up at the 2021 Australian Open when fielding a question about injuries.
“It depends on what kind of injury you have,” he said then. “You have something broken, I think you have a strain or your abdominal — for example, I did it in the past, and you do mistakes because it’s impossible to know exactly what’s going on when you are competing. For example, I remember in the U.S. Open 2009 that I started the U.S. Open with a strain, I think, here in the abdominal. I start with six millimeters or so of strain and . . . I lost in the semifinals against [Juan Martin] del Potro and I finished the tournament with 26 millimeters. Of course it wasn’t a smart decision.”
In that semifinal, Nadal suffered a thumping rare among his 65 Grand Slam appearances: 6-2, 6-2, 6-2. This withdrawal becomes his second among those 65, counting the 2016 French Open just before the third round.
Nadal won the French Open this year despite a foot injury that required considerable treatment and left him unconvinced at times that he would be able to finish the tournament. His path included a semifinal in which Alexander Zverev retired from the match in the second set with an ankle injury that required surgery. Nadal said Thursday that while his Australian Open had been almost problem-free injury-wise, even as he came off injury there, the French Open had been “very demanding mentally and especially physically.”
Yet he had reached Wimbledon and had moved through players ranked 41st (in four sets), 106th (in four sets), 54th (in three sets), 25th (in three sets) and 14th (in five sets), and he had begun to like very much his form. After the romp through No. 21 seed Botic van de Zandschulp in the round of 16, he remarked about his improvement during the tournament and said: “I’m starting to feel that my ball is damaging more than the beginning of the tournament. I think I am, again, making the ball advance faster with my forehand, with my backhand. I think working well with the slice, too.”
He has not won Wimbledon since 2010, the second of his two championships here among his men’s record 22 major titles. But then, he had not won the Australian Open since 2009 before he claimed it this year with a stunning comeback from two sets behind against Daniil Medvedev.
“The test says I have what I have,” he said Thursday. “There is always a choice, but in this particular case, it’s not like the foot that I know the injury is there and the injury will not get worse in this particular case. It’s obvious that if I keep going, the injury is going to be increasing, no?”