Doha: Top-seeded Rafael Nadal was hustled out of the Qatar Open in the semi-finals on Friday, joining second-seeded Roger Federer at the Doha exit door after the Swiss star pulled out with a back injury.
French Open champion Nadal lost 6-3, 6-4 to Gael Monfils, the world number 16 from France.
The result guaranteed a French winner of the Qatar Open for the first time since Nicolas Escude eight years ago, for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga also reached the final when Federer’s hopes were scuppered by a bad back.
Federer's decision to pull out before a ball was hit was only the second time in his career that he had been forced into such a decision.
For Monfils, it was only the second time in 10 attempts that he had got the better of Nadal.
Curiously the other occasion was on this same court three years ago before Nadal went on to win the Australian Open.
This time the quality of Monfils’ play was even higher and he suggested that, at the age of 25, he may still have the time and the mentality to make a challenge to the leaders.
"I like this stadium and atmosphere - I play great tennis here," he said of an arena with an intimate, highly charged ambience at night.
"I think I served well and I was very fast around the court," added Monfils, who had served 19 first serves into court in a row at one stage in the second set.
His second comment was an understatement, for his withering speed may well have raised doubts in Nadal’s mind about the best shot selection.
Nadal followed quite well his new emphasis of heavier attacks from nearer to or inside the baseline, but was frequently prevented from getting full value from them.
Inevitably the loss will continue the questions about the efficacy of the world number two’s preparation for the 2012 season.
Problems with his shoulder, a new and heavier racquet, and only five days off-season training have not created maximum confidence.
Nadal did dominate more of the rallies in the first set, only to be bamboozled by sudden injections of counter-hitting pace by Monfils.
It then seemed that Nadal was turning the match around when he went 4-1 up, mixing in slower, loopier drives with his attacks.
He might even have made it 5-0 had Monfils not saved a break point with a fine first serve down the middle.
Three games later Monfils played three brilliant ambushing attacks to break back for 3-4, and after saving a break point against him in the next game, made the killer thrust to reach 5-4.
He broke Nadal’s service game to love, stayed calm as the French Open champion tenaciously saved two match points, and closed out the match at the third attempt with a good first serve and a driving follow-up.
Having played two matches in pain, Grand Slam record-holder Federer preferred to give himself the best chance of appearing in decent shape for the first Grand Slam tournament of the year, the Australian Open, starting at Melbourne in 10 days' time.
"Although it's not very good it's not crazy bad," Federer said.
"I have had bad backs on the past, but this is not very good, otherwise I would definitely be playing.
"It’s only the second time I have pulled out from a tournament, and I have never pulled out during a match. It’s a sad moment for me, the tournament, and the fans, but health comes first."
Federer was "optimistic" he would be fit for the Australian Open, where he will be trying to win the title back from Novak Djokovic.
"I feel that without play and with the right treatment, I will get through it in the next few days," he said.