Rafael Nadal plummets down the rankings ahead of comeback attempt
Rafael Nadal will finish the year ranked outside the top 650 in the world as the reality of his injury problems start to hit home.
Nadal has played just three matches this year due to ongoing hip and abdomen issues, losing three of them. That will see him finish 2023 as the world number 664.
He played two matches at the United Cup, losing to Britain’s Cameron Norrie and Australia’s Alex de Minaur in the round robin stage.
He then went to the Australian Open, where he was able to battle past Jack Draper in the first round before losing to Mackenzie McDonald in straight sets.
That defeat to McDonald was the last match Nadal played, and it came on the 16th January. In total, he has lost seven of his last nine matches.
Nadal does plan on returning in 2024, and Australian Open tournament director Craig Tilley says he has received personal assurances from the Spaniard that he will be ready. However, Nadal did later deny that.
Nadal, though, has also said the next year will be his final one on the ATP Tour.
Despite his low ranking, Nadal will not have to rely upon wildcards to get into tournaments next year due to having protected ranking instead.
What is protected ranking in tennis and how will it help Rafael Nadal?
A protected ranking is an allowance within the ATP for a player who has suffered long-term injury to not have to start again from the bottom upon their return.
Players can apply for protected ranking six months after their last match and should the ATP grant it they will, for tournament entry purposes, be granted a ranking determined by their average ranking during the first three months of injury.
However, it the protected ranking does come with limitations. For starters, it can only be used for either the first nine tournaments since their return or the first nine months, whichever comes first. That is extended to 12 tournaments and 12 months if he spends more than a year out injured.
Most importantly, though, protected ranking only applies to entry into a tournament – not the seeding.
Therefore, Rafael Nadal will not be seeded at the Australian Open and will therefore be vulnerable to being drawn against a top player, possibly even Novak Djokovic, in the first round in Melbourne.
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