Nadal heads list of Paris Masters absentees

Oct 29, 2006 - 11:48 PM By Barry Millns SportsTicker Contributing Writer

PARIS (Ticker) - Roger Federer is playing this time, having missed it for the past two years.

Once again, however, reigning French Open champion Rafael Nadal is among a string of high-profile absentees from the Paris Masters, with injuries or illness ruling out four of the world's top five players and six of the top 16, as they did 12 months ago.

In 2005, a left foot injury prevented Nadal from making his debut at Paris Bercy, and now he is suffering from an abdominal injury he sustained last week during training.

"I was practicing hard to get ready for the BNP Paribas Masters, which is one of the most important events in the world," said Nadal, having journeyed to the French capital to provide the reason for his latest withdrawal. "This was an important week for me in order to win matches and ranking points, and Paris obviously has a special place in my heart, having won Roland Garros the last two years.

"But they told me that I must rest one week so I cannot play here. I plan to be back at the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai."

In addition to Nadal, David Nalbandian, Ivan Ljubicic and Andy Roddick are all missing from the draw, leaving Federer, the world's No. 1 player, as the clear favorite to win this title for the first time and so claim a record fifth Masters Series shield in a single year.

The champion in Indian Wells, Miami, Toronto and Madrid, Federer arrived in Paris buoyed by his latest success back home in Basel, Switzerland, where he claimed his 11th title of 2006.

On a 24-match winning streak as a result, Federer has a bye into the second round in Paris along with the other 15 seeds. His opening match will be against either Thomas Johansson of Sweden, runner-up this past week in St. Petersburg, or American Vince Spadea.

The highest-ranked players in Federer's half of the draw are No. 4 seed Nikolay Davydenko of Russia and fifth seed Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, who has just lost back-to-back finals against him.

James Blake of the United States, seeded seventh, leads the challenge in the bottom half of the draw, which also includes the Czech defending champion and No. 8 seed Tomas Berdych, plus the three-times former champion Marat Safin of Russia.

A winner in Paris in 2000, 2002 and 2004, Safin's many fans will be hoping it is his year again and certainly, on his day, he still has a game which can beat anyone, including Federer.

As for French hopes, 16th seed Richard Gasquet is their best bet, having just won his third title of the season in Lyon. But there is a bigger picture to consider in Paris as well, with places still up for grabs at next month's Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai.

While Federer, Nadal, Ljubicic and Roddick have already booked their tickets to the season-ending showpiece, those present in Paris who could still claim the four remaining places are Davydenko, Blake, Tommy Robredo, Gonzalez and Mario Ancic, who has just won his second title of the year in St. Petersburg.






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