By Martyn Herman
PARIS (Reuters) - King of clay Rafael Nadal's hopes of reclaiming his Roland Garros throne ended in despair when the nine-times champion pulled out of the French Open because of a wrist injury on Friday.
The Spaniard, who looked in top form when cruising through the first two rounds for the loss of nine games and was due to face compatriot Marcel Granollers on Saturday, called a news conference at short notice.
"I'm here to announce that I have to retire from the tournament because I have a problem in my wrist that I have had a couple of weeks," Nadal, 30 next week, told a packed room.
"Every day was a little bit worse. To win the tournament I need five more matches, and the doctor says that's 100 percent impossible."
Fourth seed Nadal, beaten only twice in 74 matches at the French Open since taking the place by storm in 2005, had been tipped for a strong showing as he looked to recover from last year's quarter-final exit at the hands of Novak Djokovic.
The claycourt slam has been robbed of two of its biggest attractions after Roger Federer, the 17-times grand slam champion and winner in 2009, withdrew with a back injury last week.
With Nadal's news reverberating around the grounds, a day of third-round action under sunny skies was overshadowed.
Ordinarily 10th seed and twice Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova's 6-0 6-7(3) 6-0 defeat by 108th-ranked American Shelby Rogers would have been a big talking point.
As would men's second seed Andy Murray scything past big-serving Croatian veteran Ivo Karlovic in straight sets -- a relief after the Briton's first and second round dramas when he was twice pushed to five sets by lowly-ranked opponents.
Tournament director Guy Forget expressed his sadness at Nadal's misfortune, but said the show must go on without the most successful player in Roland Garros history.
"It's his favourite tournament and the most important one, and for him to actually withdraw, we know it's a very painful decision," Forget told reporters.
"He was going to play probably Novak (Djokovic) in the semi-finals, so one of those two was going to be in the finals. It opens up the draw for some players."
Home favourite Richard Gasquet provided some cheer for the home fans on Philippe Chatrier Court where he tamed Australian tyro Nick Kyrgios 6-2 7-6(9) 6-2 to move into the last 16 where he will face fifth seed Kei Nishikori.
Japanese Nishikori let slip a two-set lead against Spain's Fernando Verdasco before prevailing 6-3 6-4 3-6 2-6 6-4.
Swiss third seed Stan Wawrinka, the defending champion and the only other man apart from Federer to keep Nadal's name off the trophy since 2005, was playing France's Jeremy Chardy later.
In the women's draw, fourth seed Garbine Muguruza shone in the Chatrier sunshine, thrashing Belgium's Yanina Wickmayer to set up a last-16 clash with 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Sixth seed Simona Halep also prevailed as did experienced Australain Samantha Stosur who beat 11th seed Lucie Safarova in a battle of two former runner-ups.
The return of Nadal's injury curse caused the greatest impact, though, and his chances of recovering in time to play at Wimbledon next month already look in the balance.
"If I keep playing it's gonna be broken in the next couple of days," the crestfallen Spaniard said of the injury to his left wrist tendon. "Every day the image is a little bit worse."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)