Defending champion and top seed Rafael Nadal has been knocked out in the second round of the 2023 Australian Open, losing to Mackenzie McDonald 6-4 6-4 7-5.
It was an emotional rollercoaster for Nadal, who lost the first set and got injured mid-playing in the second set, but still found that zeal to continue, though was not enough to see him through.
The Spaniard was trailing 6-4 5-3 when he pulled up with his injury. He immediately called on the trainer at the end of McDonald’s service game before leaving the court for a medical timeout.
After Nadal returned to the court and played out the second set, the 36-year-old continued and fought on valiantly, but ultimately was not fit enough to force a fourth set.
McDonald will play either Dalibor Svrcina or Yoshihito Nishioka in the third round.
“It was actually really tough to stay mentally engaged,” McDonald said after the match. “But I found a way to pull it out so I’m happy.
“He’s an incredible champion. He’s never going to give up regardless of the situation so even closing it out like a top guy like that is always tough.
“Last time I played him was on [Court Philippe] Chatrier (the French Open) and he kicked my butt.
“On clay court it is tough to hit through but on hard I like my chances. I wanted to take it to him on the hard court, I’m thankful I got that opportunity and I got away with it.”
Nadal at the press, praised the young American and spoke on his injury. “He played some good tennis; I wasn’t playing that well and at some point… that was the end. It’s the hip. I still don’t know what’s the problem. I have history with the hip, I still have to check what happened. It’s difficult to say what’s the exact problem at the moment. Tired to talk about injuries. I understand, but I lost, and I tried to fight until the end.”
When asked why he didn’t retire after his injury sustained during the match, Nadal said he thought about it but felt he could see the match through.
“I thought about retiring, I was not able to hit the backhand or run at all, but I wanted to finish the match. I didn’t ask my team if I should retire or not. I’m old enough to take my decisions. Didn’t want to retire as the defending champion. Tried my best till the end.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to accept and you feel super tired about all these injuries, now it’s a tough moment and I have to accept and keep going. I can’t complain about my life. I can’t say I’m not destroyed mentally because I would be lying. Hopefully nothing too bad,” he concluded.
This is Nadal’s earliest exit at any Grand Slam tournament since bowing out in the first round in Melbourne in 2016 against No. 45 Fernando Verdasco. That also made Verdasco the lowest-ranked player to defeat Nadal in Australia until McDonald on Wednesday.