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When Rafael Nadal signed off early from the ATP World Tour Finals this week with a hearty: “Thank you, and merry Christmas everyone,” it was tempting to shout out after the Spaniard as he limped home to the warmth and comfort of the Spanish sunshine: “And thanks for coming.”
It was the sixth time in 14 qualifications for this event that Nadal’s body has given up on him – the previous five of those before a ball was hit – and few players are more committed to the cause than the muscular Mallorcan. So, he should not be castigated for giving what little he had and he will be missed. But his departure certainly sucked the life out of the O2 Arena, hosting this season-ending cash bonanza for the eighth year, with at least three more to come.
However, this gig is as demanding as nearly any in sport, not so much because of the format or even the hard court that Nadal struggles with, but because of the accumulated workload the eight finalists have to bear to get here.
Nadal was never going to go deeper than a couple of days’ play this year, having withdrawn after two matches in Paris, the week before, with a recurrence of his chronic knee pain. But there are sponsors to please, tickets to sell, eyeballs to log, digital clicks to click.
The event was already missing its champion, Andy Murray, as well as Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic. They all chose or had imposed on them a rest for the remainder of the 2017 season because their bodies said no, even if their bank managers whispered yes.