Scans have revealed the extent of the injury to Rafael Nadal that contributed to the defending champion's shock exit from the Australian Open on Wednesday. The Spaniard's reign as champion at Melbourne Park ended prematurely in the second round, courtesy of a brutal defeat by American Mackenzie McDonald that left many fans concerned for the Spaniard's future.
Nadal pulled up suddenly in the latter stages of the second set and clutched at his left hip. He opted to finish the match after an off-court medical timeout but his movement was severely hampered.
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Following scans on the injury in Melbourne, Nadal learnt on Thursday that he suffered a grade two hop flexor tear. An update from Nadal's team said he would return to Spain for a period of rest and treatment, with the normal recovery time for the injury between six and eight weeks.
If that timeframe proves correct, Nadal could also miss Indian Wells at the start of March but should be recovered in time for his favourite European clay-court swing. Furthermore, if Nadal is ruled out for the next two months he faces the very real possibility of a stunning 19-year first.
In a sign of his extraordinary longevity and record-breaking achievements in the sport, Nadal has not been outside of the top 10 in the men's world rankings for 19 years. However, as respected tennis writer Jose Morgado pointed out, that incredible run of the 36-year-old Spaniard's is in danger of coming to an end in 2023.
Nadal revealed he intentionally ignored requests from his wife and coaches to retire hurt during his shock loss to McDonald on Wednesday. Nadal suffered a brutal straight-sets loss in what could be his final appearance at Melbourne Park after injuring his hip.
His wife Xisca was seen in tears in the crowd as the realisation set in that Nadal wasn't going to be able to fight back. Speaking in his post-match press conference, Nadal said he intentionally stopped communicating with his team because he knew they were pleading with him to quit.
Rafa Nadal injury sparks concerns for 36-year-old
“Yeah, I consider all the time stopping, but I didn't ask the physiotherapist at the end,” he said after the match. “I have to know myself. And I tried to keep playing without increasing the damage.
"No, that's it. 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. That's it.”
He added: "I didn't ask them. I am old enough to take my own decisions. So I didn't want to retire, to be defending champion here. No, I didn't want to leave the court with a retirement. Better like this at the end. I lost. Nothing to say. Congratulate the opponent.
“That's the sport at the same time. Just try your best till the end. Doesn't matter the chances that you have. That's the philosophy of the sport. That's the essence of the sport by itself. I tried to follow that during all my tennis career, and I tried of course to not increase the damage, because I didn't know what's going on.”
Nadal cut a forlorn figure as he left Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday, with many predicting that it could be the last time we see the champion Spaniard competing at Melbourne Park. The fact he lingered to thank fans for their support and waved goodbye as he left, only fuelled those suggestions further.
The 36-year-old insisted, however, that he was keen to play on but admitted he would have to wait and see how the recovery goes from his latest injury. "If I have to spend a long time again, then it's super difficult in the end to be in rhythm and to be competitive and to be ready to fight for the things that I really want to fight for. Let's see how the injury is, and then let's see how I can manage to follow the calendar."
Former World No.1 Boris Becker was among those to suggest the end is nigh for Nadal, telling Eurosport: "Yesterday was already the first step towards his retirement.
"An injury like that is hard and at this age it takes even longer to get back into shape. I hope and pray that he will get well soon and that we will see him looking fresh again in Paris at the latest. But I think his days are numbered."
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