Rafael Nadal’s Australian Open title defense came to a premature end on Wednesday as he lost 4-6 4-6 5-7 against American Mackenzie McDonald in the second round.
The 36-year-old Nadal struggled with a left hip injury throughout the match and needed treatment during the second set on Rod Laver Arena.
He managed to finish the match, eventually going down to McDonald in two hours and 32 minutes for his earliest exit from a grand slam since the 2016 Australian Open.
“I didn’t want to retire [as] the defending champion here. I didn’t want to leave the court with a retirement,” Nadal told reporters.
“It’s better like this at the end. I lost, nothing to say, congratulate [my] opponent. That’s the sport at the same time – just try your best until the end.”
McDonald made a fast start to the match when he broke Nadal’s serve in the opening game.
He then did the same in the second set, taking control of the contest with consistent, powerful hitting from the baseline.
Nadal, who was looking to extend his men’s record of 22 grand slam titles at the Australian Open, left the court for a medical timeout at 5-3 in the second set.
The Spaniard was clearly struggling with his movement in the third set but nevertheless remained on serve until 5-5.
But then McDonald gained the upper hand, securing the crucial break with a backhand passing shot as both players came to the net.
He wrapped up the contest the next game when Nadal dropped a backhand return into the net to signal the biggest victory of the 27-year-old’s career.
McDonald, unseeded for the tournament, now has a chance to match his best-ever run at a grand slam if he manages to beat Dalibor Svrcina or Yoshihito Nishioka in the third round.
“He [Nadal] is an incredible champion,” McDonald said in his on-court interview. “He’s never going to give up, regardless of the situation, so 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. He kind of got me out of the rhythm with that but I’m happy I kept focusing on myself in the end and got through.”
After the match, Nadal said he would receive treatment to ascertain the exact nature and extent of the injury.
“It’s difficult to make a resolution if it’s a muscle, if it’s the joint, if it’s the cartilage … Let’s see how the injury is, and then let’s see how I can manage to follow the calendar,” he told reporters.