Rafael Nadal has pulled out of the Australian Open, claiming he was still suffering from the stomach virus which caused him to cancel his return to action in the Gulf this week after a six-month absence.
Nadal, an 11-time Grand Slam title winner, has also withdrawn from the Qatar Open which starts on Monday and where he was due to play his first official tennis tournament since losing in the second round at Wimbledon in June.
The Spaniard had been sidelined with a crippling knee injury that caused him to miss the Olympics, the US Open and Davis Cup final.
"My knee is much better and the rehabilitation process has gone well as predicted by the doctors, but this virus didn’t allow me to practise this past week and therefore I am sorry to announce that I will not play in Doha and the Australian Open, as we had initially scheduled," the 26-year-old, world number four said in a press release.
"I will have to wait until the Acapulco tournament (in February) to compete again although I could consider to play before at any other ATP event.
"I always said that my return to competition will be when I am in the right conditions to play and after all this time away from the courts I would rather not accelerate the comeback and prefer to do things well."
Nadal, the record-breaking seven-time French Open champion and who had been due to make his comeback in an exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi this week, will also face a drop in the rankings having been runner-up to Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open final in 2012.
He is expected to be out of the top four for the first time in seven years. But doctors have told him that the gastroenteritis which left him with a high fever for five days requires a week’s break from sport. His medical team claim that would leave him with insufficient time to prepare for the season’s first Grand Slam event which gets underway on January 14.
Toni Nadal, the player’s uncle and coach, said his nephew would be unable to stand the rigours of five-set matches at the Australian Open.
"It is simply not conceivable that his first event is a best of five sets tournament, he wouldn’t be ready for that. It is true we have been quite unlucky with this but there is nothing we can do."
World number one Djokovic, who is playing in the Abu Dhabi tournament, said he was sad to hear that his rival’s return had been delayed.
"I was eager to see him play. He has been off the tour for the past six months and I am sure that all tennis fans and all sports fans want to see him back on the court, healthy and fit. I wish him, as a colleague, a fast recovery," said the Serb.