Rafael Nadal will consider delaying his return to tennis until the clay court season begins in April after withdrawing from the Mexican Open with a recurrence of a hip injury.
The 31-year-old was due to face Feliciano Lopez in round one in Acapulco but felt pain in the area during his final practice session and opted to pull out of the event after seeking medical advice.
Nadal was forced to quit in the fifth set of his Australian Open quarter-final against Marin Cilic due to the same problem and following nearly five weeks out of the sport he is set for another spell on the sidelines.
Sixteen times a grand slam winner, Nadal will remain in Mexico to discover the full extent on the injury – an iliopsoas of his right leg – and a decision over his participation in the first leg of the Sunshine Double at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, which starts on 8 March, will be made next week.
Should he skip the tournament, that could throw into major doubt his participation at the Miami Open which follows, with Nadal again likely to prioritise the clay court swing which begins in earnest at the Monte Carlo Masters in April.
Unable to make a definitive decision until the injury is examined further, Nadal admits he will contemplate delaying his return if it ensures he can compete pain free.
"It's not a time to make drastic decisions," he said, according to El Espanol. "I will see what my next step is. Indian Wells would be a great goal for me, but today my only goal is to know the extent of the injury. If it's for Indian Wells, fantastic; if it's for Miami, fine; if it will not be for the ground [clay court] tour.
"The doctors have told me that it is impossible to play, regardless of whether it hurts. There is a significant risk of increasing the injury and I have no choice. It's a hard blow. I was well prepared to play and I had hopes of doing something important here."
The decision to pull out is the fifth tournament in succession Nadal has failed to complete, having also called time on his campaigns at the Paris Masters, the ATP World Tour Finals, the Brisbane International and the Australian Open.
Since pulling out in the dying embers of his last eight clash with Cilic in Melbourne in January, Nadal has followed a strict regime to ensure he returned at the peak of his powers. He arrived in Acapulco last week and has been doing three-hour sessions to ensure he is up to speed.
But on Monday [26 February] while hitting with France's Adrian Mannarino he suffered a pinch in his hip, and after being assessed was informed he would only risk further damaging the area if he participated in the event.
The withdrawal is also a blow to Nadal's hopes of pursuing Roger Federer in the ATP rankings, with the Mallorca-born left-hander set to slip 600 points behind the 36-year-old when the standings are re-calculated next week.
Nadal will lose all of the 300 points he had to defend in Mexico from his run to the 2017 final and will lose ground on Federer, who himself surrendered the 45 points he won at last year's Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships after opting to skip the event.