Tennis star Rafael Nadal's preparation for the clay-court season has been put in disarray after he revealed he will be out of action for four to six weeks.

The Spaniard has been diagnosed with a stress fracture of his rib after he was seen in serious pain against Taylor Fritz in the Indian Wells final on Sunday (March 20).

The 21 time Grand Slam winner confirmed the news in a message to his fans.

He said: "As it turns out, I have a stress crack in one of my ribs and will be out for 4-6 weeks.

"This is not good news and I did not expect this. I am downcast and sad because after the start of the season I have had such a good time."

Nadal had admitted he had concerns over his fitness following his loss at the Indian Wells final, where he lost in straight sets.

It was clear that Nadal had been dealing with an injury that had surfaced in the semi-final against Carlos Alcaraz, which was limiting his breathing.

After the match, Nadal had said: "I had pain, honestly. I have problem to breathe. I don't know if it's something on the rib, I don't know yet. When I'm breathing, when I'm moving it's like a needle all the time inside here (his chest).

"I get dizzy a little bit because it's painful. It's a kind of pain that limits me a lot. Is not only about pain, I don't feel very well because affects my breathing."

Injuries have seemed to plague the Spanish player's career, evident after he pulled out of the Miami Open before he had even played his first match in Indian Wells.

Nadal will be ruled out of the Monte-Carlo Masters in France as well as the Barcelona Open, but could be back in time to play the Madrid Open should the recovery go well.

The fact that Nadal finished the Indian Wells tournament with such an injury hasn't been lost on tennis fans either.

One tweeted: "Rafa Nadal literally defeated a kid 18 years his junior and was *this* close to pushing Fritz to three sets in the final WITH A CRACKED RIB."

"This man will never cease to amaze me. @RafaelNadal, take the time you need to rest and heal. We will be ready when you are."

Another said: "Rafa Nadal has been 2 points away from winning a set in a Master 1000 final with a cracked rib. What are we even talking about, honestly?"

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