Rafa Nadal was left frustrated in the first set against American Mackenzie McDonald on Wednesday after he argued with chair umpire Marijana Veljovic over the serve clock at the Australian Open. Nadal was sluggish to come out of the blocks with the roof closed on Rod Laver Arena before an eventual injury drama saw him go down in dramatic fashion, McDonad prevailing 6-4, 6-4, 7-5.
As he was sitting down at the change of ends down 4-1 in the first set, Nadal accused the chair umpire of rushing him with the serve clock. Nadal was sweating profusely in the humid conditions under the roof. He was forced to retrieve his towel after every point and return it to the far corner of the large court between serves.
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However, Nadal accused the chair umpire of starting the clock too soon as he was retrieving his towel. He claimed he wasn't allowed time to reset between points. Commentator and tennis great Jim Courier said it was rare for Nadal to show frustration.
"Rafa rarely displays that frustration," Courier said after Nadal argued with Veljovic. "He feels he is being rushed to do the things he normally does."
Courier explained that Nadal's rituals between points, coupled with the need to fetch his own towel and return it on Rod Laver Arena, was causing problems for the Spaniard. But the American admitted that Nadal has played with the rituals for nearly two decades and that the exacerbation of the new towel rule during Covid-19 was slowing him down.
"Nadal could solve all of that stress, if he doesn't have those rituals. He is one of the rare players that pushes the serve clock to the brink...it has got to be hugely stressful for him all the time," Courier added. "He could deal with it if he just played faster, but that's not going to happen."
While Nadal won a break back after the exchange, it wasn't enough as McDonald continued to attack the Spaniard's forehand and sealed the set. The tennis world was left stunned at the scenes on Rod Laver Arena as Nadal fell behind and looked 'rattled' in the match.
Rafa Nadal suffers brutal loss at Australian Open
Nadal navigated his way past dangerous British ace Jack Draper in the first round, but looked below his best. Nadal's movement and range of hitting is seemingly affected by the injury concerns that dogged him during the back-end of 2022.
The Spaniard came out against McDonald and was immediately on the back foot as he struggled with the flat forehand of the American. Nadal struggled at the start of the second set and was broken immediately as McDonald continued to push the 36-year-old around the court.
Fans rallied around the Spaniard as he attempted to battle his way back into the second set. However it was simply not to be, with the 36-year-old succumbing to an issue which forced him to take a medical timeout.
Nadal would eventually return to the court to rapturous applause from the Australian Open crowd, but it soon became apparent it would take a miracle for Nadal to find his way back into the match. A gallant effort to force a third set tiebreak fell short, with a clearly hobbled Nadal forfeiting a late break to the American.
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