Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal's comeback has been delayed after he announced he would not be taking part at the 2024 Indian Wells Open. Christopher Pike/Reuters

On Wednesday night, Rafael Nadal announced his decision to pull out of the 2024 Indian Wells Open just a day before he was scheduled to play Canada's Milos Raonic in the opening round.

The 22-time Grand Slam winner revealed that he was not fit enough to participate in the first ATP Masters 1000 event of the year.

Nadal was most recently on the court at the Netflix Slam in Las Vegas on Sunday, which was a one-off exhibition match against fellow Spaniard, Carlos Alcaraz.

In terms of competitive action, the 37-year-old, last featured at the Brisbane International in the beginning of January, where he lost in the quarter-finals to Australia's Jordan Thompson. Here he suffered a muscle tear by his hip which caused him to miss the inaugural Grand Slam of the year, the Australian Open.

Nadal's withdrawal from the Australian Open raised concerns as a hip problem had kept him sidelined for nearly all of 2023. However, to his relief, the injury sustained in Brisbane was not a recurrence of the previous hip injury from last year.

Nadal was planning to return to the court at the Qatar Open last month, but he later withdrew from competing at the tournament in Doha as he felt he was not ready to play competitively just yet.

The Spaniard's latest absence in Indian Wells continues what has so far turned into a very frustrating year and will be a real shame for him as he previously suggested this year could be his last on the tennis court.

Explaining his decision to withdraw from the latest ATP event, Nadal said on social media: "I have been working hard and practicing, but I don't find myself ready to play at the highest level at such an important event. It is not an easy decision, but I can't lie to myself and lie to the thousands of fans."

Having won three titles in Indian Wells during his career, Nadal has strong admiration for the event, which made his withdrawal tough for him. He stated: "Everyone knows how much I love this place and how much I love to play here at Indian Wells. That's also one of the reasons why I came very early to the desert to practice and try to get ready."

Had Nadal participated at Indian Wells, he would have been in for a tough schedule had he progressed through the tournament. A win over Raonic would have meant a second-round matchup awaited with seventh seed, Holger Rune, with the Dane having a first-round bye due to being seeded.

The 37-year-old would have also been on the same side of the draw as long-time rival and top seed, Novak Djokovic and fourth seed, Daniil Medvedev. India's Sumit Nagal has been called up as a replacement for Nadal and will play Raonic in the opening round.

The latest setback for Nadal means he will likely shift his focus towards getting ready for his favoured clay season, which begins next month. He could make his return at the first 1000 event of the 2024 clay season, the Monte-Carlo Masters, which begins on 8th April.

The tournament has been dominated by Nadal in the past as he has won it a record 11 times. Ultimately, he will want to make sure he is ready for the French Open in late May, as he has also had plenty of success there during his career, winning the Grand Slam a record 14 times.

Last year, Nadal did not feature at the French Open for the first time since 2004 as his injury ruled him out. Hence, he will be targeting at least one more shot at success at Rolland-Garros due to the special connection he was forged with the tournament in his 23-yearlong professional career.

The opening round of this year's men's singles tournament at Indian Wells saw Britain's Andy Murray advance after he beat Belgium's David Goffin in straight sets. However, his compatriot, Jack Draper, exited after a three-set loss to Australia's Christopher O'Connell.

In the women's singles first round, Briton and recent San Diego Open winner, Katie Boulter, was comfortably beaten by Italy's Camila Giorgi in straight sets.