Top seed Rafael Nadal saw his Australian Open defence come to an early end after being knocked out by American world No 65 Mackenzie McDonald 6-4 6-4 7-5.
The top seed was already in jeopardy when he knelt down in obvious pain while gripping his left hip after chasing out wide for a forehand against unseeded McDonald.
After stumbling through the remainder of the match, Nadal asked for help from the trainer and left the court.
Nadal vs McDonald: Match Stats
|62%||1st serve win percentage||68%|
|49%||2nd serve win percentage||63%|
|2/4||Break points won||5/8|
|90||Total points won||107|
The Spaniard’s wife Maria was sobbing in the stands, and it appeared that he would withdraw, but he decided to play on despite his limping.
Although Nadal was able to maintain his serve until the 11th game and was cheered on by supporters who still thought he might somehow turn things around, McDonald would eventually find a way through and he quickly finished off the victory.
Nadal said that the hip problem he experienced before the match dramatically worsened.
“There have been a few days like this, but nothing like today in that movement,” he said. We’ll start talking about that right away, but I have no idea what’s wrong—if it’s a muscle or a joint.
“I have a hip full of history. In the past, I had to undergo therapies and deal with it somewhat, but the issue was not as severe. Now, I feel immobile.
“I persevered in my efforts. Although I have better chances of winning the game in favorable circumstances, I am unsure. But that’s it in the end. Just trying. It was impractical.
The 36-year-old added: “In terms of sports and in terms of injuries and tough moments, that’s another one. I just can’t say that I am not destroyed mentally at this time, because I will be lying.
“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, I think, but that’s not easy, without a doubt.”
It was a hugely sad way for Nadal to exit the tournament a year after his near-miraculous run to the title when he feared his career may have been over because of a chronic foot problem, and there must be serious doubt over whether he will play again at Melbourne Park.
He went on to win a 22nd Grand Slam title at the French Open last year but has found the going tough since suffering an abdominal tear and pulling out of Wimbledon ahead of the semi-finals.
Nadal went into a first-round clash with Britain’s Jack Draper having lost six of his previous seven matches and, although he scrapped to a four-set victory, was some way below his best.
The same was true in the early stages against McDonald, a 27-year-old ranked 65th looking for his first victory over a top-five player at a Grand Slam.
On a rainy day in Melbourne, the game was played inside Rod Laver Arena, and McDonald’s flat hitting definitely benefited from the indoor setting.
He surprised Nadal and defeated the Spaniard twice to take a 4-1 lead before the top seed dug in and fought back to win the first set.
Nadal, who had grumbled about the balls prior to the tournament, produced a few of his signature forehands but also made much too many mistakes, and more often than not, it was him who gave out first in baseline rallies.
Nadal created one break point with McDonald serving for the set only to hit the roof with a mis-hit, and he did not get another opportunity.
McDonald, who battled past his compatriot Brandon Nakashima in five sets in the first round, broke serve again at the start of the second.
Nadal looked like he might have turned things around when he reeled off three games in a row but McDonald broke through again in the seventh game, and it was moments later that injury struck.
Asked why he did not retire, Nadal said: “I was not able to hit the backhand at all. I was not able to run for the ball. But I just wanted to finish the match.
McDonald praised Nadal and said: “Being the amazing champion that he is, he will never give up no matter what, so even winning the final round against a top opponent like that is never easy.
“He kind of pulled me out of that with what he was doing because I was trying to be so focused on what I was doing. But I managed to get through it kind of by just concentrating on myself.
McDonald, who defeated Nadal in the second round of the 2020 French Open in just four games, recalled their previous encounter at Chatrier as one in which he “kicked my butt.