The Spaniard Rafael Nadal, tennis legend with 22 Grand Slam titles, withdrew Wednesday from the Masters 1000 in Indian Wells (California, United States), casting a little more doubt on his possible return to the highest level .

In Indian Wells, an oasis in the heart of the Californian desert, the postcard setting of “Tennis Paradise” took a serious blow on Wednesday between the withdrawal of the highly anticipated Rafael Nadal, and the appearance of rain which disrupted the first day.

While the headliners of the yellow ball paraded at a press conference on Wednesday, Rafael Nadal was still waiting at the desk when a press release from the organization announcing his withdrawal came in a late afternoon obscured by clouds. .

“It is with great sadness that I must withdraw from this incredible tournament. Everyone knows how much I love this place, and how much I love playing at Indian Wells,” said the 37-year-old Spaniard, quoted in the press release, and three-time winner of the competition (2007 , 2009 and 2013).

Nadal had ticked off Indian Wells on the path to his hoped-for return to the high level, after an almost blank year in 2023 and a muscle injury suffered in early January.

Hope was high after his participation in an exhibition match on Saturday in Las Vegas, 4 hours away, against his young compatriot Carlos Alcaraz, defending champion at Indian Wells.

“I worked hard, I took a test this weekend as you know, but I don’t find myself ready to play at the highest level at such an event. It’s not an easy decision but I can’t lie to myself and to the thousands of supporters,” commented the Mallorcan, who was expected in the first round on Thursday against Canadian Milos Raonic.

At 37, Nadal’s loss further complicates his recovery operation. The Majorcan, who had suggested that the 2024 season could be his last, dreams of being competitive for the clay court season and especially at Roland-Garros for his favorite fortnight (May 20-June 9) then for the Olympic Games in Paris (July 26-August 11).

He missed almost the entire 2023 season and underwent two operations to repair a hip, before announcing his return in December. After playing three matches in Brisbane in January, he had to withdraw from the Australian Open immediately after suffering a muscle injury.

Back to Monte Carlo?

When will we see Nadal on court again? Not scheduled for Miami in two weeks, he has a month ahead of him to possibly prepare for the Masters 1000 in Monte-Carlo (April 7-14), the first of the year on clay, before Madrid (April 24-May 5) .

In Indian Wells, symbol of the weight of the Mallorcan, ticket holders for the Thursday evening session have the possibility of requesting a refund from the organization.

The sky was also sad at the Spaniard’s loss, and the rain, so rare in the Californian desert, disrupted the end of the day, interrupting the matches from 5:30 p.m. (2:30 a.m. Thursday Paris time).

No big name had to snort on Wednesday, the 32 best players being directly qualified for the second round.

The British Andy Murray defeated the Belgian David Goffin (6-3, 6-2) and made an appointment with the Russian Andrey Rublev (5th in the world) in the next round. The British Katie Boulter, just titled at the WTA 500 in San Diego, was knocked out by the Italian Camila Giorgi (6-3, 6-2).

On the French side, Lucas Van Assche was eliminated by the Italian Matteo Arnaldi (7-6, 7-6).