Australian Open: Injured Rafael Nadal limps out in second round to Mackenzie McDonald

Out: The defending champion struggled with injury throughout  (REUTERS)
Out: The defending champion struggled with injury throughout (REUTERS)

As Rafael Nadal got ready to step off the Rod Laver Arena, he paused for a prolonged goodbye.

Whether this is the last time the Australian Open sees the 36-year-old at Melbourne Park remains to be seen. The Spaniard has been written off so many times by a series of career-threatening injuries only to return.

But his limp 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 exit in the second round to Mackenzie McDonald because of an injury with his left hip was met by his wife wiping away tears while sat in the stands.

For his part, Nadal described himself as “mentally destroyed” shortly after coming off court and said the pain in the hip, which has been an issue for him in the past, was worse than he had ever encountered before.

Having long struggled with a foot problem and then been derailed by an abdominal issue at Wimbledon last year, which curtailed his 2022 season, it begs the question how much more the body and mind can take.

Nadal has been out of sorts this year. He struggled in his warm-up matches to this Australian Open and lacked his usual fluency in his opening-round match against Britain’s Jack Draper. In the end, he was saved more by Draper’s own physical issues than his own tennis.

Against McDonald, he never entirely seemed either at ease or in contention, the frustration apparent and his movement increasingly curtailed.

The first clear sign of any major problem was as he leant in pain on an advertising hoarding late in the second set, not long after which he called for a medical timeout to address the hip problem. Neither that nor the administering of painkillers could quite have the desired effect.

Australian Open 2023 - In pictures

Emma Raducanu (Getty Images)
Emma Raducanu (Getty Images)
Coco Gauff (Getty Images)
Coco Gauff (Getty Images)
Emma Raducanu (Getty Images)
Emma Raducanu (Getty Images)
Coco Gauff (AFP via Getty Images)
Coco Gauff (AFP via Getty Images)
Emma Raducanu (REUTERS)
Emma Raducanu (REUTERS)
Rafael Nadal dejected after losing his second round match against Mackenzie Mcdonald (REUTERS)
Rafael Nadal dejected after losing his second round match against Mackenzie Mcdonald (REUTERS)
Novak Djokovic in action during his first round match against Roberto Carballes Baena (REUTERS)
Novak Djokovic in action during his first round match against Roberto Carballes Baena (REUTERS)
Andy Murray (AP)
Andy Murray (AP)
Emma Raducanu (AFP via Getty Images)
Emma Raducanu (AFP via Getty Images)
Cameron Norrie (REUTERS)
Cameron Norrie (REUTERS)
Iga Swiatek (AP)
Iga Swiatek (AP)

But to his credit, he refused to entirely give in, seeing out the match rather than handing a walkover to McDonald. Whether his decision to do so worsened the injury, only time will tell.

Explaining his refusal to pull out, he said: “I didn’t want to retire being defending champion here. Better like this at the end. I lost, nothing to say, congratulate the opponent.”

McDonald was almost muted in his celebration paying tribute to “an incredible champion” in the immediate aftermath.

Nadal had not failed to reach beyond the quarter-finals of his last six Australian Open appearances, the most notable of which was his title win last year when a foot injury threatened to derail his participation before that fairytale finish.

Following the McDonald loss, Nadal admitted he had been hampered by his hip in recent days but that it flared up painfully during the course of the match.

“It has been a couple of days like this but nothing like today in that movement,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going on, if it’s muscle, if it’s joint.

“I have history in the hip. I had to do treatments in the past, address it a little but there was not this amount of problem. Now I feel I cannot move.

“I tried until the end. I just can’t say that I’m not destroyed mentally at this time because I will be lying.”

Nadal will return home to assess the injury but he readily admitted he was fearing another lengthy lay-off from the sport.

He said: “Hopefully it’s nothing too bad. In the end, it has been three positive weeks in terms of practice. So, I really hope that this doesn’t put me out of the court for a long time because then it’s tough to make all the recovery again.

“I went through this process too many times in my career and I am ready to keep doing it but that’s not easy without a double.”