The tennis world has taken to social media to share its devastation after heartbreaking scenes surrounding Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open on Wednesday. The reigning champion - who has struggled for form and fitness leading into the grand slam - was bundled out 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 by American Mackenzie McDonald in the second round after battling past Jack Draper on the opening day.
Nadal has battled a series of issues since withdrawing from Wimbledon last year with an abdominal complaint and didn't look quite himself against McDonald on Rod Laver Arena. The 22-time grand slam champion dropped the opening set off the back of a succession of uncharacteristic mistakes.
However, the real drama unfolded after the Spaniard found himself a break down in the second set, when he pulled up in discomfort after stretching to reach a shot out wide. Nadal could be seen grimacing and was in obvious discomfort as commentators and those inside Rod Laver Arena let out a collective groan.
McDonald held serve moments later to jump out to a 5-3 lead, before Nadal called for a medical timeout to receive attention on his injury. The Spaniard left the court, leaving spectators deeply concerned for his prospects in the tournament and his wife, Xisco, fighting back tears from the stands.
"This is terrible. Hopefully it's something that will release for him," Jim Courier says on Nine's coverage. "It was just such a strange reaction. He genuinely looked like he was shocked. He stops and looks like he's in absolute disbelief at what's happened.
"I just hope it's not the same problem that took him out of Wimbledon last year when he'd won so many matches in a row. He's got problems and they're real."
Injured Rafa Nadal bundled out of Australian Open
After receiving treatment on the injury, which was clearly impeding the 36-year-old's movement, Nadal came back onto court and tried valiantly to push through the pain. However, the reigning champ was unable to keep up with McDonald as the American capitalised.
The World No.65 left Nadal on the brink after claiming the second set 6-4, but the ailing Spaniard refused to give up in the third set despite his obvioua struggles. Nadal made the American fight right until the end but ultimately his body gave up as McDonald took the third stanza 7-5 to end the Spaniard's title defence.
The sad scenes left the tennis world shattered on social media. Many suggested the tears from Nadal's wife may have offered a clue about his retirement plans.
Rafa Nadal the latest drawcard out of Aus Open
Nadal's heartbreaking Melbourne Park exit comes after he ended a long drought by claiming his second Australian Open trophy in 2022, 13 years after his first. 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, while Nick Kyrgios withdrew with a knee injury before his first round clash.
Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley was captured with a grim look on his face during Nadal's medical timeout. After wrapping up the straight sets win, McDonald praised Nadal's resilience in a classy on-court interview.
"He's an incredible champion," the 27-year-old said. "He is never going to give up regardless of the situation.
McDonald admitted that he was thrown out of "rhythm" by the fact the gritty left-hander was playing differently due to the injury. The American says he was just relieved to see out the match and book his place in the third round.
"Even closing it out against a top guy like that is always tough. I was trying to stay so focused on what I was doing."
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