Rafael Nadal paying the price of prematurely earning world No. 1

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Updated: November 13, 2017

9:18 PM ET

On Sunday in London, Rafael Nadal was awarded the world No. 1 trophy, an honor that now looks little more than a consolation prize.

After a gritty, painful 7-5 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-4 loss to David Goffin on Monday, Nadal announced he was pulling out of the tournament with a knee injury.

The one pressing question that loomed in the wake of Nadal’s withdrawal was whether he was lured into playing too much tennis in order to secure the No. 1 ranking, something he — and Roger Federer — repeatedly said he would avoid.

“Fair? I’m not sure that’s the right word,” Federer said to reporters Monday in London, referring to Nadal’s complaint. Fed went on to remind us that there’s no Masters 1000 on grass, and just one that is played indoors — both surfaces on which Federer shines.

Federer is assured of a more satisfying end to the year than Nadal. He not only finished a perfect 4-0 against Nadal this season, Federer’s chances of winning an unprecedented seventh World Tour Final title also improved considerably.

Federer is playing chess, not checkers. He has played a judicious schedule this season, one in which his priority has been health and fitness — not ranking points. Notably, he bailed on two Masters events, in Cincinnati and Paris, to preserve himself for the larger payoff. He knows that bagging another year-end title would constitute the perfect conclusion to 2017.

“I had a romantic vision of these guys playing in London for No. 1,” said Paul Annacone, a Tennis Channel analyst who coached Federer through some of his greatest years. “It would have been such a great ending. But Roger showed that he wasn’t going to be tempted into risking his health.”

A temptation that was apparently too great for Nadal.

Article source: http://www.espn.com/tennis/story/_/id/21402710/tennis-rafael-nadal-paying-price-prematurely-earning-world-no-1