Each of next week’s grass-court events took a hit to its celebrity pulling power on Wednesday, as Rafael Nadal pulled out of the Fever-Tree Championships at Queen’s and Maria Sharapova withdrew from the Birmingham Classic.
Nadal had already hinted that he might skip his planned Wimbledon warm-up, soon after lifting his 11th French Open title on Sunday. On Wednesday, he explained that, “I have spoken to my doctors and I need to listen to what my body is telling me.”
Sharapova made a similar comment, saying that, “I need to take care of my body” after her own run to the quarter-finals at Roland Garros.
Just as Nadal has now withdrawn from Queen’s for a third consecutive season, this is the second year running that Sharapova has failed to show up at Birmingham.
Her absence is ironic in light of the moral contortions that Michael Downey, the previous Lawn Tennis Association chief executive, put himself through in order to justify handing her a two-year deal – complete with guaranteed wild cards – so soon after her return from a 15-month doping ban. “Not everyone will agree,” he wrote last year, in a 700-word email to stakeholders.
The wild-card debate around Dan Evans is only likely to intensify after he pulled off another fine win in the Nottingham Open over world No 133 Sergiy Stakhovsky.
Evans is thus through to the quarter-finals for the second straight week and will move comfortably inside the top 500 when the next set of rankings is published on Monday. His 7-5, 7-6 win was particularly notable because Stakhovsky is a fine grass-court player, a talented volleyer, who is best known for ending Roger Federer’s sequence of 36 straight grand-slam quarter-finals with a second-round Wimbledon win in 2013.
On this form, Evans would seem to be worthy of an invitation into qualifying for Queen’s this weekend. To get there, though, he would have to lose his next match in Nottingham.