Rafael Nadal learns nature of mystery injury and could be out for six weeks

Rafael Nadal is set to miss several weeks of action after doctors discovered he had been playing with a cracked rib.

The Spaniard enjoyed a remarkable start to the new season, going 20 matches unbeaten in a run which saw him win the Australian Open in January. But despite a valiant effort it came to an end in the Indian Wells Masters final, as he suffered breathing difficulties and could not match the American Taylor Fritz.

That problem had first been identified in his semi-final match against fellow Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, though he was able to play through the pain and see off the challenge of his younger rival. But after suffering defeat in the final he shed more light on the discomfort he had been in while trying to maintain his unbeaten streak.

"When I'm breathing, when I'm moving it's like a needle all the time inside here," he told reporters. "I get dizzy a little bit because it's painful. It's a kind of pain that limits me a lot. It's not only about pain, I don't feel very well because it affects my breathing."

Nadal has now confirmed that he is set to spend some time on the sidelines after medics discovered the cause of the problem. In a lengthy social media post, he revealed that he was likely to miss a significant part of the clay court season – the surface on which he has especially excelled throughout his playing career.

"Hello everyone, I wanted to announce that I have returned to Spain and I immediately went to visit my medical team to do the tests after the Indian Wells final that I played with discomfort," he wrote. "As it turns out, I have a stress crack in one of my ribs and will be out for 4-6 weeks.

"This is not good news and I did not expect this. I am hollow and sad because after the start of the season I have had such a good time. I reached a very important part of the year with very good feelings and good results. But hey, I've always had that fighting spirit and what I will do is be patient and work hard after my recovery. Once again I thank everyone for the support."

The worrying news comes after Nadal had already spent a significant amount of time out of action in the past year. He prematurely ended his 2021 season last August in order to allow a long-term foot problem to heal, with many fans worried that his career might be coming to an end.

His lightning start to the new season alleviated those fears, though news of his latest injury issue is likely to spark more concern over whether he can stay fit for an extended period of time. The 21-time Grand Slam champion is expected to have made a full recovery in time for the French Open, which begins on May 22, but will almost certainly miss the Monte Carlo Masters and faces a race to be fit for the Madrid Masters.

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