The R. K. Khanna Stadium, better known as the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association Complex here, that mostly stays empty barring a few tennis enthusiasts, was not just packed to capacity at the Centre Court on Friday but had huge snaking lines outside its gates with people standing in the aisles and sitting on stairs. All for a man – Rafael Nadal.
Ever since it was announced that Nadal would accompany the Spanish Davis Cup team here for the tie against India, the buzz had been all about the former World No. 1. But the crowd was disappointed after Nadal pulled out of the first singles match of Spain’s Davis Cup tie against India, replaced by World No. 26 Feliciano Lopez for the match against Ramkumar Ramanathan.
The multiple-Grand Slam champion, who has repeatedly spoken about respect for the opposition in the one week he has been here, finally decided not to risk his already injured wrist. Spain’s non-playing captain Conchita Martinez confirmed the withdrawal but was non-committal about his playing in the coming days.
“He is not well, he is not playing on the opening day. I can’t say much now, let’s wait and watch,” she said.
There were rumours of Nadal being down with a stomach bug but Lopez refuted it.
“No no, he is ok, nothing wrong with his stomach. It is his wrist, the same problem he had at US Open also. I think he just did not want to take any risk. But we have two more days to compete here and let’s see,” Lopez clarified after his match.
For those present at the venue, however, it was ‘Rafa’ who mattered the most. So much so that, at the beginning of the first match, there were chants of “We want Rafa” across the stands. That soon gave way for an overwhelming support for Ramkumar, the 21-year old playing against someone ranked 177 placed above him. The chair umpire often had to delay play request the people to stay quiet between rallies.
The crowd though did manage to get its fill of Nadal – the Spaniard joined his team courtside and occasionally waved to his fans across the stadium – and for most people present, it was worth the effort.
And, Nadal might still play – either the doubles with Marc Lopez or even the reverse singles on Sunday.
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