Shockwaves were sent through Melbourne Park on a gloomy Wednesday afternoon as defending champion and number 1 seed, Rafael Nadal bowed out in the second round – only the second time in his career the Spanish bull has failed to reach the round of 32 at Melbourne Park.
Nadal, who had lost both lead-in matches at the United Cup, fell to American Mackenzie McDonald 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 on Rod Laver Arena with the former UCLA product too good from start to finish.
The match will likely be remembered for the hip injury Nadal sustained in this second set which effectively limited Nadal to ‘stand and deliver’ type tennis with his trademark intensity and lateral movement entirely absent. However, that would be a disservice to McDonald who at the time was a set and a break up on an otherwise fit Nadal.
Tournament Director Craig Tiley will likely be cursing with another high-profile player leaving Melbourne prematurely following Kyrgios, Saville, Tomljanovic, Alcaraz, Berrettini, and Badosa out the door early (or indeed having never arrived).
Speaking post-match, Nadal revealed that while his hip had caused him trouble in the past, Wednesday’s injury was unexpected.
“I don't know what's going on, if it's muscle, if it's joint,” said the 22-time grand slam champion.
“I have history in the hip that I had issues. I had to do treatments in the past, address a little. Was not this amount of problem.
“I tried until the end.”
The win marks a career milestone for the victorious McDonald with today his first win over a top three player and the second time he’s made the third round at the Australian Open after going down to Daniil Medvedev in the round of 16 in 2021.
McDonald’s reward is a third round match against Japanese 31st seed Yoshihito Nishioka with the winner to face one of Tiafoe and the winner of Kubler and Khachanov.
On the other side of the net, Nadal, who will slide to at least number 6 in the world after the Australian Open, admitted while he considered retiring mid-match, he refused to leave the court, as he so often has, without finishing the match.
“I considered all the time stopping, but I didn't ask [my] physiotherapist at the end,” the Spaniard revealed.
“I tried to keep playing without increasing the damage.
“I am old enough to [make] my own decisions.
“I didn't want to retire [as] the defending champion here. No, I didn't want to leave the court with a retirement. Better like this at the end. I lost. [There is] nothing to say.”
Nadal went on to say that all you can do is “just try your best till the end.”
“Doesn't matter the chances that you have. That's the philosophy of the sport. That's the essence of the sport by itself. I tried to follow that during all my tennis career”.
Nadal didn’t give many clues as to where to from here other than to say it's “frustrating” and hopefully it's “not too bad”.
So much of the last few years has involved speculating over when his time will come with injuries mounting and time continuing to tick. The natural reflex reaction is to wonder ‘is this the end?’
The grand slam record holder is scheduled to play Dubai in February. Although you’d suspect he will need more time to recover ahead of Monte Carlo Masters in the second week in April with an eye to lifting the trophy at Roland Garros yet again no doubt front of mind.