Can great fighter Nadal bounce back again?

Tennis has never known a fighter quite like Rafael Nadal - but even the sport's ultimate warrior could be forgiven for feeling "mentally destroyed" at his Australian Open exit and "super tired" at the prospect of yet another debilitating battle with injury.

He's put his battered body through so much punishment for so long now that as he walked gingerly away from Rod Laver Arena - dethroned, dispirited and with a dodgy hip - there was inevitably a nagging question over whether Nadal might just be waving farewell to Melbourne Park at 36.

Of course, no-one could, or should, ever dare write off a man who won last year's event in miraculous fashion after injury woes.

And who, indeed, would be the slightest bit surprised if the indestructible one was back to Roland Garros kingdom in June lifting a 15th French Open crown?

But Nadal, who's long chronicled the constant physical and mental agony of scrapping with the pain of chronic injuries, made it sound as if he could hardly bear the thought of having to go through yet on more ordeal to get back to his championship best.

"I really hope that it doesn't put me out of the court for a long time," he sighed, admitting he still didn't know the nature of the hip problem that made him feel he "couldn't move" against American Mackenzie Macdonald in his straight-sets defeat.

"It's not only the recovery. It's all the amount of work that you need to put together to come back at a decent level. I went through this process too many times in my career."

"I am ready to keep doing it, I think - but that's not easy..."

And it's getting harder.

Last year, incredibly, he won in Paris without being able to feel his left foot at all because of the painkilling injections, but since suffering with the abdominal and rib issues that wrecked his Wimbledon and US Open bids, he really has looked a shadow of his old self.

This time last year, he reeled off 21 straight match wins to begin 2022. Including his US Open exit, he's won just two of nine matches and this was his earliest exit at any grand slam since he got beaten in the 2016 Australian Open first round by Fernando Verdasco.

The good news? It's Nadal's love of the sport that will drag him back to the well one more time.

"It's a very simple thing: I like what I do," he said. "I like playing tennis. I know it's not forever. I like to feel myself competitive. I like to fight for the things that I have been fighting for almost half of my life or even more.

"When you do things that you like to do, at the end of the day, it's not a sacrifice.

"Sacrifice is when you are doing things that you don't want to do. And that was not my case.

"But of course it's tiring and frustrating to spend a lot of my tennis career on recovering process and trying to fight against all this stuff all the time..."

But he's Rafael Nadal - and Rafael Nadal never quits.