BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Just when Rafael Nadal had recovered from a knee injury, a stomach virus has delayed his return to tennis by a couple of months.
Nadal announced Friday he will miss next month's Australian Open and probably won't play again until the end of February. The Spaniard said he needs time to recover from the virus that already prevented him from coming back this week at Abu Dhabi.
Nadal has been sidelined since June with a knee injury, which forced him to miss the London Olympics and U.S. Open. He had planned to rejoin the ATP tour at the Qatar Open in Doha next month before the Jan. 14-27 Australian Open, but pulled out of both.
"We just hope he gets better quickly and we see him back on the tour as soon as possible," Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said. "Tennis fans across the world have been missing him."
While he is expected to recover from the virus in time for the year's first Grand Slam tournament, Nadal and his team said he wouldn't have the proper preparation for a five-set event.
Nadal stressed that his decision had nothing to do with the tendinitis in his left knee. That injury prompted him to take a break following a second-round loss to then 100th-ranked Lukas Rosol at Wimbledon in June.
"My knee is much better and the rehabilitation process has gone well as predicted by the doctors," Nadal said in a statement from his hometown of Manacor on the island of Mallorca. "But this virus didn't allow me to practice this past week and therefore I am sorry to announce that I will not play in Doha and the Australian Open."
The former No. 1 hopes to return at a tournament in Acapulco, Mexico, starting Feb. 27. He left open the possibility of playing at an earlier tournament if his recovery went well.
"As my team and doctors say, the safest thing to do is to do things well and this virus has delayed my plans of playing these weeks," Nadal said. "I always said that my return to competition will be when I am in the right conditions to play and after all this time away from the courts I'd rather not accelerate the comeback and prefer to do things well."
Nadal's doctor, Angel Ruiz-Cotorro, said in the same statement that the player needed at least a week to recover from the virus. That ruled him out for the Qatar Open, which starts Jan. 2.
Nadal's coach and uncle, Toni Nadal, said going straight to a five-set tournament after being sidelined so long was "not appropriate."
"It is simply not conceivable that his first event is a best-of-five sets event," he said in a statement. "He wouldn't be ready for that."
Nadal's knee injury prevented the 11-time Grand Slam winner from defending his Olympic singles gold medal at last summer's games, where he was supposed to be Spain's flag-bearer in the opening ceremony. He also had to pull out of the U.S. Open and Spain's Davis Cup final against the Czech Republic, which his teammates lost without him.
Nadal, ranked No. 4, won the Australian Open in 2009. Last year, he lost to top-ranked Novak Djokovic in a title match that lasted 5 hours, 53 minutes, the longest recorded Grand Slam final.