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Illness forces Nadal withdrawal

Rafael Nadal's return from injury has been further delayed after he pulled out of this week's exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi with a virus.

The 11-time Grand Slam champion made the announcement on his Facebook page on Christmas Day, saying he was "very disappointed" to miss out after seven months on the sidelines with a left knee problem.

Nadal has not played since suffering his shock second-round exit at Wimbledon to unheralded Czech Lukas Rosol.

Despite the setback Nadal, 26, claimed he had recovered from his knee problem and that doctors had advised his withdrawal after a stomach infection had caused his illness.

"Everything was ready and I am eager to return to competition but the doctors have forbidden me from competing in Abu Dhabi due to a stomach infection that has left me with a fever," Nadal wrote.

"My recovery has gone well - my knees are better - and I was eager to return to competition. I'm sorry for my fans in the Emirates and throughout the world. I hope to be there the coming year.

"I am very disappointed that I will not be able to compete in Abu Dhabi this year."

Nadal had made a slower-than-expected recovery from his knee problems in the summer to delay his return.

The 26-year-old attempted to ease any concerns that this latest blow represented a further setback, saying his rehabilitation remained on course ahead of the start of the Australian Open on January 14.

"My rehab has gone well, my knee feels good and I was looking forward to competing," he said.

"Unfortunately doctors have informed me that my body needs to rest in order to fight this stomach virus."