Rafael Nadal will miss a big chunk of the clay season after being ruled out for between four and six weeks with a stress fracture of his rib suffered in Indian Wells.
The Australian Open champion sought treatment during his semi-final victory over Carlos Alcaraz and complained of breathing problems and sharp pain after a straight-sets defeat by Taylor Fritz in the final on Sunday, his first loss of the season.
Writing on Twitter, Nadal said: “Hello everyone, I wanted to announce that I have returned to Spain and I immediately went to visit my medical team to do the tests after the Indian Wells final that I played with discomfort.
“As it turns out, I have a stress crack in one of my ribs and will be out for four to six weeks. This is not good news and I did not expect this.”
The news is a big blow to the 35-year-old, who had already chosen to sit out the Miami Open over the next fortnight with the aim of continuing his stunning form on clay.
But he will almost certainly miss the Monte-Carlo Masters and the Barcelona Open, tournaments he has won 11 and 12 times respectively, and he could also be forced to skip the Madrid Open at the beginning of May.
That would leave him with only the Italian Open in Rome to get ready for the French Open, where he will aim to wrest back the title from Novak Djokovic and lift the trophy for a 14th time.
Nadal did not attempt to hide his disappointment, saying: “I am down and sad because after the start of the season I have had such a good time. I reached a very important part of the year with very good feelings and good results.
“But I’ve always had that fighting and overcoming spirit and what I will do is be patient and work hard after my recovery. Once again I thank everyone for the support.”
Having feared for his career because of a foot injury as recently as December, Nadal became the first man to win a 21st Grand Slam title with a remarkable Australian Open triumph.
He then made it his best ever start to a season with another title in Acapulco and took his winning streak to 20 matches by making the Indian Wells final.