No sooner had Andy Murray restored a sense of order to his French Open than a seismic upheaval struck at Roland Garros.
Murray had just finished reflecting on an excellent, refreshingly undramatic 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 win over Croatia’s Ivo Karlovic when he was hurried out of the room to make way for Rafael Nadal’s unexpected entrance.
The Spaniard revealed that he was withdrawing immediately from an event he has bestrode like a colossus since his first of nine victories, back in 2005.
The unfortunate development does not affect Murray much, as he is on the other side of the draw, but it opens things right up for Novak Djokovic, who faces British No 2 Aljaz Bedene in the third round on Saturday.
As for Nadal, struggling to contain his emotions and carrying a blue cast on his wrist, it is a devastating blow as his body becomes increasingly uncooperative just short of his 30th birthday.
He reported that there is damage to a tendon in his left wrist, and that surely puts him in doubt for Wimbledon, whatever optimism he tried to muster.
It was a surprise as his first two rounds were negotiated in just three hours and four minutes altogether, but it emerges that this was only achieved with the help of injections.
Of profound concern to Nadal, who has had so much trouble with his knees, must be that the wrist can be an even worse place for a tennis player to develop an injury.
Difficulties in this area have played havoc with the career of Juan Martin Del Potro since his stunning US Open win in 2009.
For now it must be extremely unlikely that Nadal will take his place in the Aegon Championships at Queen’s Club prior to Wimbledon, as he will be immobilised in that area for two weeks.
‘We’re going to work hard to be ready for Wimbledon. For the moment I need a couple of weeks with the immobilisation then we’re going to do the treatment,’ said Nadal, who revealed that he first felt it three weeks ago at the Madrid Open. ‘We expect to recover quickly, to be ready for Wimbledon, but it’s not a moment to talk about that.
‘Last night I started to feel more and more pain, and this morning I felt that I could not move the wrist much. So I came here, I did an MRI, the results are not positive. It’s not broken, but if I keep playing it’s going to be broken in the next couple of days.’
He cannot say much with certainty, and told Spanish media in his native tongue that it could be three months before he is back. This represents his earliest ever exit from the French Open, which is already missing Roger Federer.
Murray turned round to his support team and shouted ‘Big win!’ at the end of his match against Karlovic, a player he has consistently mastered.
After seven and a quarter hours of struggle in his first two rounds he was delighted to have got off court in less than two hours against someone so awkward.
But nobody plays the towering, huge servers with the aplomb that Murray does, perhaps not even Djokovic. As he usually is in these kind of situations he was mentally tuned in from the start, jabbing reflex returns back at the feet of his advancing opponent.
He will need similar dexterity in his next round against another human tower, John Isner, although the American plays in a different style, attacking the net less.
Murray said that he was aware Nadal had a few issues with his wrist, but not the extent of them.
‘I knew he’d been struggling. I practised with him before the tournament and his wrist was strapped heavily,’ he said. ‘He was grimacing sometimes. But I didn’t know it was bad enough for him to pull out of the event.’
The 29-year-old Scot has had enough worries of his own this week, but finishing off the third-set tie-break 7-3 rounded off a performance so contrastingly assured to his previous two.
Djokovic, now odds-on for the title at only the third round, needs to be attacked by Bedene, according to British Davis Cup captain Leon Smith, who is coaching him this week.
‘He’s got to go for that first forehand, be aggressive and dictate as many points as he can,’ said Smith.
The world No 2 celebrates during the match as he steps closer to a maiden French Open title.