Defending champion Rafael Nadal knocked out of the Australian Open

Melbourne Australia — Rafael Nadal He bowed his head during the change and rested his elbows on his knees, the very image of resignation.

What was already a poor start to 2023, after a year marred by all kinds of health issues, hit a low point at the Australian Open on Wednesday.

Defending champion and top seed at Melbourne Park, Nadal injured his left thigh and lost to Mackenzie MacDonald 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 in the second round, abruptly ending his bid for a 23rd Grand Slam title.

“It’s a difficult moment,” Nadal said. “It’s a difficult day.” “I can’t say I’m not mentally broken at this moment, because I would be a liar.”

The 35-year-old Spaniard came to an awkward stop at the end point late in the second set against 65th seed McDonald.

Nadal visited a coach on the sideline, then left the court for a medical period. Above the bleachers, his wife wipes away tears. Nadal came back to play, but was compromised physically and wasn’t his usual tireless self, saying afterwards that he couldn’t hit his back properly and couldn’t run much either.

But Nadal added that as the current champion of the tournament, he does not want to leave the court by retiring in the middle of a match.

He said the hip had been bothering him for a couple of days, but it wasn’t as bad as it became on Wednesday. Nadal was not sure of the exact nature of the injury, saying he would undergo medical tests to determine if it was related to muscle, joint or cartilage.

“He’s an incredible champ. He’ll never give up, no matter what the situation is, so it’s always tough to shut it up against a big guy like that,” said McDonald, the 27-year-old American who won the NCAA championship in singles. and my husband to UCLA in 2016. “I kept focusing on myself at the end and I got through it.”

This is Nadal’s first exit at any Grand Slam tournament since he retired in the first round in Melbourne in 2016 against No. 45. Fernando Verdasco. This also made Verdasco the lowest-ranked player to ever beat Nadal in Australia – until, of course, McDonald on Wednesday.

McDonald has never made it past the fourth round in a major championship. In his only previous meeting against Nadal, at the 2020 French Open, McDonald won just four matches in a lopsided loss.

“He kicked my ass,” McDonald recalled Wednesday.

A year ago, Nadal won his second Australian Open to claim his 21st Grand Slam title, then took his total to 22 — the most for a man — at Roland Garros.

He is currently ranked No. 2 but he was the No. 1 seed at Melbourne Park because he is No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz He sits out of the Australian Open with a bad leg.

Nadal’s body has betrayed him recently.

He needed painkiller injections in his left foot en route to winning the French Open last June, pulled out of Wimbledon last July ahead of the semi-finals with a torn abdominal muscle and dealt with a rib cartilage problem in 2022.

Nadal’s exit drains more stars from the tournament. In addition to his absence and Alcaraz’s runner-up at the 2022 Wimbledon Championships Nick Kyrgios Withdrew because his left knee needed arthroscopic surgery. Four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka She exited the Tour while pregnant, and is a two-time Grand Champion Simona Halep Issuing a temporary ban on doping and Venus Williams Hurt.

This is all on top of that: The 2023 edition of the Australian Open is the first Grand Slam tournament since then Serena Williams And Roger Federer announce their retirement.

Nadal arrived in Melbourne with a 0-2 record this season, which put him back 1-6 back in September, when he lost to Francis Tiafoe In the fourth round of the US Open.

Even during Monday’s first-round win, four sets against cramp Jack DraperNadal never seemed to be at his best in chasing down every ball, putting every shot high on goal. Somehow he looked at his age.

This has been the case since the beginning against McDonald’s.

“I’m really happy with the way that match started. I thought I was playing really well, serving really well, and returning really well too,” McDonald said. “So I was really taking her to him.”

This is correct. From the start, McDonald was on, and Nadal was off.

The first match was a harbinger: McDonald broke a 1-0 lead thanks to a hat-trick of unforced errors by Nadal – two from his fearsome left forehand.

Of sorts, Nadal got into a back-and-forth match with chair referee Mariana Veljović during work breaks over whether to start sending a clock between points too quickly for his liking.

McDonald’s was soon set up. Then a break immediately went into the second.

After one point in that set, Nadal showed real signs of trouble. He sat behind the baseline and put his bat in the outfield. Then he went and leaned on a cue, prompting Veliović to ask if Nadal was okay.

Nadal watched two serves of a McDonald’s racket fly past him, and then the coach examined him. While the match would go on, it was basically over then and there.

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