PARIS – For a decade, Rafael Nadal ruled Roland Garros the way no other man has dominated a Grand Slam site.
Friday, his powerful left wrist in a blue brace, Nadal delivered the news he was withdrawing before his third-round match at the French Open because of an injury that would prevent him from delivering the whiplike, spin-heavy forehand that carried him to a record nine championships and a 72-2 record on the tournament's red clay.
"To win the tournament, I need five more matches," he said, his face expressionless, his arms crossed in front of him, "and the doctor says that's 100 percent impossible."
His announcement, at what he called "one of the toughest press conferences in my career," overshadowed everything else going on around the grounds on Day 6 of the French Open, from the straight-set victories by defending champion Stan Wawrinka and No. 2-seeded Andy Murray, to the out-of-nowhere 6-0, 6-7 (3), 6-0 upset of two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova by 108th-ranked Shelby Rogers, a 23-year-old American.
No. 15 John Isner, the last U.S. man in the field, found out about Nadal's departure about 15 minutes after winning a five-setter to set up a showdown with Murray for a berth in the quarterfinals.
"It was a shock," Isner said. "I had no idea."
It robbed the event of more star power, coming a week after 17-time major champion Roger Federer pulled out because of lingering back problems.
It cleared one potential obstacle from the path of No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who is attempting to win a fourth consecutive major title and his first in Paris — and could have faced Nadal in the semifinals.
And it raised more questions about how long Nadal, who turns 30 in a week, can continue to ply his intensely physical brand of tennis and remain among tennis' best.
"I think a lot of people had him playing Novak in the semis on that side of the draw," said Isner. "It's a shame."