Rafael Nadal says he didn't want to retire from the Australian Open after suffering a hip injury mid-way through his second-round loss, because of his status as reigning champion. In scenes that left Rod Laver Arena practically silent at times, a hobbled Nadal was upset by American McKenzie McDonald in straight sets.
A deflated Nadal said it had been 'impossible' for him to mount an unlikely comeback after calling for a medical timeout in the second set. Despite bravely seeing the match out, the reigning champion was sent packing 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 by the World No.65.
Speaking to reporters after the match, Nadal indicated his short-term future was uncertain, but admitted it had been a 'difficult' period over the last seven months, dating back to his injury-hit run at Wimbledon. Nadal said he had been feeling good leading into the grand slam, but conceded he's considered retiring after feeling his hip go on him.
It was a sensational effort from the 36-year-old to manage to keep the third set largely on serve, with both players giving up a break. It seemed for all money however, that all McDonald would have to do was survive long enough in the third set - and his eventual break to go up 6-5 proved the ultimate turning point.
"He played some good tennis, I wasn't playing that well and at some point... that was the end. It's the hip," Nadal said in his post-match press conference. "I still don't know what's the problem. I have history with the hip, I still have to check what happened.
"It's difficult to say what's the exact problem at the moment. Tired to talk about injuries. I understand, but I lost and I tried to fight until the end.
Nadal had been determined to see the game through, and hinted that his career now would largely depend on how the injury responded to treatment. The Spaniard looked towards his players box in disbelief after pulling up in the second set, prompting a tearful reaction from his wife Xisca.
"Sometimes it's difficult to accept and you feel super tired about all this injuries...now it's a tough moment and I have to accept and keep going," Nadal said.
"I can't complain about my life. I can't say I'm not destroyed mentally because I would be lying. Hopefully nothing too bad.
"The last seven months have been tough. I don't know what will happen in the future. It could be another long period out. Super difficult to be competitive, get in the rhythm. Let's see how the injury is and how I can manage the calendar."
Rafael Nadal injury ruins yet another Australian Open run
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 last nine singles matches.
Even before the injury, Nadal was rattled by McDonald, who broke serve in the opening game of the match. Nadal became frustrated, arguing multiple times with the chair umpire.
The apparent hip problem marks the sixth time in his grand career that either injury or illness has cruelled his Australian Open campaign. 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-eighth 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.
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.
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