The tennis world was bracing for a Rafael Nadal-Novak Djokovic final at the Paris Masters with the No. 1 ranking on the line, but hopes of that dream match were scuttled Saturday when Nadal withdrew from his semifinal match with an abdominal strain.
Nadal felt the injury during warmups ahead of his match against unseeded Canadian Denis Shapovalov. He returned to practice after a scan revealed a small strain, but he still felt pain while serving and didn't want to risk further injury.
Shapovalov advanced to the final, where he will have a shot to take home his second title. Djokovic advanced to his sixth final at Paris earlier in the day after beating Grigor Dimitrov 7-6 (5), 6-4.
This is the second straight year that Nadal has been forced to withdraw from the Paris Masters because of the same injury. Last year, he battled back from a balky right knee only to suffer an abdominal strain that also kept him out for the ATP Finals.
“I went through this in the past, so that’s why the recommendation of the doctors (was) to not play,” Nadal said, via the Associated Press. “I have to take that decision.”
Nadal made a goal to return to for the ATP Finals in London, which begin Nov. 10. The 33-year-old has yet to win an ATP Finals, although he finished runner-up in 2010 and 2013.
The Spaniard’s absence provides Djokovic a big opportunity to seize his sixth No. 1 title to finish the year. He'll also have a chance to win a sixth ATP Final after falling to Alexander Zverev last year.
Djokovic is playing as well as ever in this tournament. He has yet to drop a game in four matches and decisively topped his toughest opponent, No. 7 Stefanos Tsitsipas, by a score of 6-1, 6-2.
Djokovic had a bit of trouble in the first set against Dimitrov in the semifinals when neither player faced a break point until the bitter end. The world No. 1 eventually battled back from down 5-4 in tiebreakers to take the first set. Djokovic got his first service break in the fifth game of the second set and cruised to victory from there.
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