(Reuters) – Kei Nishikori’s long-awaited return from an elbow injury has been put on hold after he pulled out of Japan’s Davis Cup qualifier against Ecuador in Miki on Thursday, which will be played without any fans because of the coronavirus.
The former world number four has not played since last year’s U.S. Open but was included in Japan’s team as they try to qualify for the finals at the end of the year in Madrid.
However he was left out of Thursday’s draw and Japan were dealt another blow when world number 48 Yoshihito Nishioka declined to go to Japan from the U.S. for fear he might not be able to travel back because of coronavirus safeguards.
“Everything is going well, but I just couldn’t make it in time,” Nishikori, who has not played for Japan since 2016, told the Davis Cup’s official website.
“I’m sure I will come back soon, hopefully in Miami this month or for the claycourt season, but not this week.”
“My elbow is fine but my body is not ready yet, and I want to build it up. I’ve rested a long time and I’m coming back from zero. It’s sad, seeing the Australian Open and now skipping the Davis Cup, and other big tournaments are coming.”
The tie is being played without any fans in the Bourbon Beans Dome as Japan tries to contain the spread of the coronavirus that is threatening this year’s Olympics.
“It’ll be weird without fans here,” Nishikori said. “I’m sure the players will feel something different. When you have a lot of people watching, you automatically focus, so the team will have to support each other more than usual.”
Japan’s captain Satoshi Iwabuchi said he hoped people would watch the match on TV instead.
“This is everyone’s first experience of a tie without fans and I don’t know what will happen after we start,” he said.
“Still, many people will be watching on TV and we know there’s a lot of fans behind us anyway.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris)