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LONDON (Reuters) - Rafa Nadal's announcement on Friday that he will miss the ATP World Tour Finals because of appendicitis ended a difficult year for the Spaniard during which he has endured injury, illness and worrying defeats.
The 28-year-old's ninth French Open crown in June stands out like a beacon in the gloom as for most of the season Nadal has looked like a mere mortal, far from the force of nature that collected 14 grand slam titles.
On Friday he was crushed by Croatian teenager Borna Coric at the Swiss Indoor event in Basel, losing the first five games before offering some instinctive resistance in a 6-2 7-6 (4) reverse.
Lacking power and timing, hardly surprising considering he has been on antibiotics in a forlorn bid to delay surgery until after the World Tour Finals next month, Nadal's performance made uncomfortable viewing for his legion of fans.
A few minutes later he made the decision most had been expecting by withdrawing from the season-ending showpiece in London having already pulled out of next week's Paris Masters.
Nadal said he would have his grumbling appendix removed on Nov. 3 before spending two months training hard for a return at the Qatar Open in Doha on Jan. 5 -- a tournament he won this year before his body started creaking.
After a career spent fighting ferocious on-court battles against some of the best players ever to wield rackets, question marks will accompany the Mallorcan's latest comeback mission, although at least this time it is not his suspect knees that are under the microscope.
A player who relies so much on his extraordinary movement and physical powers, not to mention his warrior spirit, can ill afford to be less than 100 percent, as this year has proved.
There was the Australian Open final defeat by Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka when his back failed him.
There were the almost unheard of claycourt defeats by fellow Spaniard David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro in Monte Carlo and Barcelona respectively and he was being rudely out-hit by Japan's Kei Nishikori in the Madrid claycourt final before his opponent retired hurt.
Nadal raised his game to win at Roland Garros, beating arch rival Novak Djokovic in the final, but a few weeks later on the lawns of Wimbledon he was blasted off court by Australian firebrand Nick Kyrgios in the fourth round.
The defeat by teenager Kyrgios was Nadal's last match for three months as a wrist injury ruled him out of the U.S. Open.
When he returned in China it was clear not all was well.
In Beijing he lost to Slovakia's Martin Klizan and that was followed by an emphatic defeat by Spaniard Feliciano Lopez in Shanghai, by which time Nadal's decision to play on with appendicitis was looking more bizarre by the day.
Nadal finally admitted defeat on Friday as Coric gave him the kind of grilling he used to dish out routinely.
"I knew it was going to happen. I was ready for that," said the world number three.
"I know I have to be better for the beginning of 2015 and the only way to be better is work and health. Without health you cannot work."
Nadal's absence at the O2 Arena in London, where he has twice reached the final, will take some of the gloss off the event.
He had already qualified, along with Djokovic, Wawrinka, Roger Federer and Marin Cilic, and his withdrawal slightly eases the pressure on the likes of Ferrer, Nishikori, Andy Murray, Tomas Berdych and Milos Raonic who are vying for the remaining places in the event.
Editing by Tony Jimenez