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Nadal puts return on ice, admits ‘not ready to compete’

Rafael Nadal on Wednesday was forced to shelve his plans to return to action at next week’s Qatar Open, admitting he is “not ready to compete”.

The 37-year-old missed most of last year with a hip injury sustained at the Australian Open before making his comeback at last month’s Brisbane International.

However, a small muscle tear then forced the 37-year-old to pull out of this season’s first Grand Slam in Melbourne.

The 22-time Grand Slam title winner now hopes to return to the tour at the Indian Wells Masters in California from March 6-17.

“I would have loved to play in Doha, where the tournament team, as well as the amazing Qatar fans have always supported me greatly,” Nadal said in a statement on X.

“Unfortunately I am not ready to compete and I won’t be able to come to Doha where I really wanted to be and play again. 

“I will focus on keep working to be ready for the amazing Indian Wells tournament.”

Nadal was named on the entry list last month for the Qatar Open, to be held February 19-24, and where he was champion in 2014.

Earlier Wednesday, the former world number one, whose ranking has plummeted to 646, admitted he had been suffering “some discomfort these past few weeks and I’m a bit on the limit”.

“At this point every blow I take, every injury, is a setback not only in tennis and physically, but also mentally,” he told La Sexta television.

He added: “I am 100% confident of being in Indian Wells, it’s a very special tournament for me. I don’t know if it’s going to be the last time I play in it, so I would like to be in Indian Wells, for sure.”

Nadal reiterated that his “main goal is to try to get to the clay season as healthy as possible, to at least give me the chance to enjoy this part of the season”, which the Spaniard has dominated in his career.

He has won a record 14 French Open titles and holds an astonishing 112-3 win-loss record at Roland Garros.

Nadal won two matches in Brisbane in January after a year on the sidelines but felt pain in his upper left thigh during a quarter-final loss to Jordan Thompson.

Meanwhile, Nadal defended his decision to work as an ambassador for the Saudi Tennis Federation, claiming the Gulf kingdom is “a country with great potential”.

“I don’t think Saudi Arabia needs me to wash any image; it’s a country that has opened up to the world and is a country with great potential,” said Nadal in response to claims that the Saudis use massive investment in sport to soften its controversial human rights record, a practice known as “sports washing”.

“When I signed the contract I knew what would happen and that there could be some controversy. What I am going to do in Saudi Arabia is in line with what I have done all my life. 

“I am a firm believer that education and sports can change lives and complicated situations into opportunities.” 

“I’m not going to go to work in a way that I don’t feel comfortable with,” added Nadal who said his contract contains exit clauses. 

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