A dejected Rafael Nadal pulled out of his Indian Wells semi-final against old foe Roger Federer on Saturday with a right knee injury. The Spanish superstar, who has battled knee tendinitis and other injuries throughout his career, confirmed he won’t compete at next week’s Miami Masters, targeting a return to competition at Monte Carlo April 14-21.

World No 2 Nadal had made it to the last four without dropping a set, so it was especially devastating when the knee pain flared up during his 7-6 (7/2), 7-6 (7/2) quarter-final victory over Russian Karen Khachanov on Friday.

He soldiered through to what would have been a 39th career meeting with Federer, but said he knew when he practiced Saturday morning that he wouldn’t be able to play to an adequate standard.

It’s particularly devastating since Nadal was looking forward to a relatively healthy 2019 campaign after coping with multiple injuries and withdrawals from hard court tournaments last year.

Nadal reached the final at the Australian Open, and while he lost in straight sets to Novak Djokovic he said it was a positive sign after he had to pull the plug early on his 2018 season.

His run at the first Grand Slam of the year marked his return to competition for the first time since a similar knee problem forced him to retire from his US Open semi-final against Juan Martin del Potro in September. He underwent surgery on his ankle to remove an intra-articular loose body in November and only resumed training in December.

Tennis Twitter was looking forward to the clash of the titans and wished the world No 2 a speedy recovery. However, there was a lot of chatter about his run on hard courts and the grind he has put his body through.

At the same time, veteran journalist Christopher Clarey sparked a very interesting debate about a potential change of rules in case of pre-match withdrawal. Many sides weighed in, including Serena Williams’s coach Patrick Mouratoglou.

But the overwhelming sentiment was good wishes for Nadal’s speedy recovery, starting from his opponent Federer who posted a sweet video montage of their clashes.