They came to see Rafael Nadal. And they did see Rafael Nadal. But not his top-spin heavy shots or those forehands that personify power. Instead, he sat courtside next to Marc Lopez, fiddling with his phone and playing the role of a cheerleader.
This was to be Nadal event – the world group playoff between India and Spain had become incidental, a sideshow. The All India Tennis Association (AITA) hoped a big-ticket name like Nadal would attract sponsors for the tie. That did happen. The Indian team, for a change, had a sponsor. They then decided to conduct the match under lights, only because the 14-time Grand Slam champion was expected to play.
In all probability, the match would otherwise have been played in searing heat during the day time. But an evening start, AITA believed, would attract bigger crowd. Which too happened. It was only to see Nadal that there was almost a kilometer-long queue to get inside the centre court.
But then came the downer. Nadal, who was drawn to play Ramkumar Ramanathan in the opening rubber of the tie, withdrew just hours before the tie. He was instead replaced by Feliciano Lopez.
What kept Nadal off court remains a mystery. While Lopez said it was to do with the wrist injury, Spain’s non-playing captain Conchita Martinez said it was due to stomach ache. “He complained that his stomach was paining after practice on Friday. So we decided not to risk it and give him some rest,” Martinez said.
Moments earlier, however, Lopez said it wasn’t the stomach bug. Nadal’s left wrist, which forced him to withdraw from French Open after two rounds and then pull out of Wimbledon, has been not yet healed completely. And the world no. 4 was in no mood to risk it in a tie that Spain could easily win without him taking court.
The decision to make Lopez play wasn’t a last-minute one, too. The world no. 26 said there was uncertainty over Nadal’s fitness for Friday’s tie throughout the week, although it was kept under wraps.
“There was no stomach upset. We knew during the week that there might be a possibility that I might play instead of Rafa. We weren’t 100 per cent sure if he would be ready for Friday. So I had an idea in my mind that I play on Friday,” Lopez said after his four-set win over Ramanathan. “We spoke on Thursday night with the non playing captain (Conchita Martinez) and it was decided that I will play with David on the first day.”
Nadal has been forced to skip nine majors in his career because of various injuries. The latest one, however, has been frustrating for him. Throughout the week, Nadal has reiterated the need for him to stay fit for rest of the year but has insisted the wrist is ‘ok.’
Lopez, however, said it still continues to bother him. “He was struggling with wrist in the last 2-3 months. I think he is ok but did not want to take the risk. It’s nothing serious,” Lopez said. “He was playing at the US Open with same problem. It was getting better and better in the last month but is still very painful, from what I heard from him.” Martinez, though, rubbished it. “No, no. It has nothing to do with the injury. It was stomach pain,” she said.
Lopez and Martinez, however, agreed on one thing. They said it is ‘possible’ that Nadal will pair up with Marc Lopez on Saturday for the doubles rubber against Leander Paes and Saketh Myneni. A win will ensure Spain’s return to the Davis Cup world group after two years.