Gracious Nadal exits Open after injury

A gracious Rafael Nadal has refused to blame his shock loss to American Mackenzie McDonald all on injury as the legendary Spaniard's Australian Open title defence came to an abrupt end.

Nadal grabbed at his left hip during the eighth game of the second set of his second-round clash, immediately going off court for medical attention.

The 36-year-old resumed playing on Rod Laver Arena but was clearly in pain and struggling to run as world No.65 McDonald closed out the biggest win of his career 6-4 6-4 7-5.

Even before the injury, Nadal was rattled by McDonald, who broke serve in the opening game of the match and was confidently outplaying the defending champion.

"This word 'if' I don't like a lot because 'if' in sport or in life in general don't make a lot of sense," Nadal said.

"In the end, I am out of the tournament and he's in the third round, so well done for him.

"He was playing at a great level of tennis. Life continues for me."

Nadal's box, including wife Maria who wiped away tears, was left shattered by the injury as the 22-time major winner seemingly approaches the end of his glittering career.

After the loss, Nadal slowly walked off court and made extra time to acknowledge the crowd in what could be his final appearance at Melbourne Park.

Despite winning two majors last year, Nadal entered this tournament out of form, and has now lost seven of his past nine singles matches.

The hip problem marks the sixth time in his grand career that either injury or illness has cruelled a campaign at Melbourne Park.

He retired in the 2010 quarter-finals against Andy Murray with a knee injury and was badly hindered by a hamstring strain the following year in a last-eight loss to countryman David Ferrer.

Nadal withdrew from the Open in 2013 with a stomach virus and suffered a back injury in the warm-up before losing the 2014 final to Stan Wawrinka.

In 2018, the great Spaniard quit his quarter-final against Marin Cilic with a hip issue.

Despite his latest setback, which will be assessed further in coming days, Nadal was adamant on finishing the match rather than calling it quits.

"I consider all the time stopping, but I didn't ask the physiotherapist at the end," he said.

"I am old enough to make my own decisions.

"I didn't want to retire, to be defending champion here.

"I didn't want to leave the court with a retirement. Better like this at the end. I lost.

"Just try your best until the end."

Nadal last year finally won a second Australian Open title, 13 years after his first, by coming from two sets down to defeat Russian Daniil Medvedev in a classic decider.

The world No.2's early exit is another blow for Australian Open organisers, with the draw already ravaged by major withdrawals and retirements.

Women's titleholder Ash Barty, seven-times champion Serena Williams, her sister Venus, dual winner Naomi Osaka, world No.1 Carlos Alcaraz and the legendary Roger Federer are all missing.

Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley was captured with a grim look on his face during Nadal's medical timeout.

After missing much of 2022 with injury, Nadal conceded he didn't know what the future held for him if the latest proved serious.

"I accept it quite well during all my tennis career and I was able to manage it well," he said.

"But of course last seven months have been, again, another tough period of time.

"I don't know what can happen in the future but, yeah, I need to void again a long period of time outside, because if not, it's tough.

"If have been seven months playing almost nothing, and then if I have to spend long time again, then it's super difficult in the end to be in rhythm and to be competitive and to be ready for the fight for the things that I really want to fight.

"Let's see how the injury is, and then let's see how I can manage to follow the calendar."