Rafael Nadal – the record 22-time grand slam winner – experienced an early exit from the Australian Open on Wednesday he lost 4-6 4-6 5-7 against unseeded American Mackenzie McDonald in the second round, a premature end to dream to defend the title.
The 36-year-old Nadal struggled with a left hip injury throughout the match and needed treatment during the second set on Rod Laver Arena.
Nadal not only holds the overall grand slam record but also has another distinction of lifting the French Open 14 times – making him the ultimate clay court champion. The remaining titles include six on hard courts [US Open four and Australian Open 2] and two on grass – the Wimbledon.
On Wednesday, he managed to finish the match, eventually going down to McDonald in two hours and 32 minutes for his earliest exit from a grand slam since the 2016 Australian Open.
“I didn’t want to retire [as] the defending champion here. I didn’t want to leave the court with a retirement,” Nadal told reporters.
“It’s better like this at the end. I lost, nothing to say, congratulate [my] opponent. That’s the sport at the same time – just try your best until the end.”
“It’s difficult to make a resolution if it’s a muscle, if it’s the joint, if it’s the cartilage … Let’s see how the injury is, and then let’s see how I can manage to follow the calendar,” Nadal said.
McDonald made a fast start to the match when he broke Nadal’s serve in the opening game. He then did the same in the second set, taking control of the contest with consistent, powerful hitting from the baseline.
Nadal, who was looking to extend his men’s record of 22 grand slam titles at the Australian Open, left the court for a medical timeout at 5-3 in the second set.
The Spaniard was clearly struggling with his movement in the third set but nevertheless remained on serve until 5-5.
But then McDonald gained the upper hand, securing the crucial break with a backhand passing shot as both players came to the net.
He wrapped up the contest the next game when Nadal dropped a backhand return into the net to signal the biggest victory of the 27-year-old’s career.
McDonald now has a chance to match his best-ever run at a grand slam if he manages to beat Dalibor Svrcina or Yoshihito Nishioka in the third round.
“He [Nadal] is an incredible champion,” McDonald said in his on-court interview. “He’s never going to give up, regardless of the situation, so even closing it out against a top guy like that is always tough.
“I was trying to stay so focused on what I was doing. He kind of got me out of the rhythm with that but I’m happy I kept focusing on myself in the end and got through.”
After the match, Nadal said he would receive treatment to ascertain the exact nature and extent of the injury.