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Ailing Nadal falls to McDonald, ending his bid for a 23rd major title

Defending Australian Open champion Rafael Nadal suffered an injury midway through his match with Mackenzie Mcdonald, and crashed out of the tournament, 6-4 6-4 7-5.

Rafael Nadal Australian Open 2023 Rafael Nadal Australian Open 2023 || AI / Reuters / Panoramic
Australian Open •Second round • completed
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Things quickly went from bad to worse for Rafael Nadal on Wednesday evening in Melbourne. The top-seeded defending champion, already trailing by a set and a break at 6-4, 4-3 to American Mackenzie McDonald, pulled up injured in the back of the court and crouched down low as he grimaced in pain.

Rod Laver Arena, packed to the rafters and enthusiastically hoping to witness a comeback from one of the all-time greats, suddenly went quiet.

For all intents and purposes, Nadal’s chances of roaring back into the match had gone – the 22-time major champion went off court at the conclusion of the game for a medical timeout, doctors trailing him to have a closer look at what appeared to be an injury to the area around his left hip.

No quit, but not a lot of jump

When Nadal returned he was unable to move freely, but did what he could to keep the points court and stay in the match. The Spaniard rocketed serves and forehands with reckless abandon, knowing that he could not win points with his legs, and remarkably many of his punishing blows landed and he stayed in the third set, holding serve through 5-5.

Meanwhile McDonald, the 65th-ranked American from Northern California, stayed the course and finally broke serve in the 11th game. He held his nerve and closed out the biggest win of his career, 6-4, 6-4, 7-5, to book his spot in the third round in Melbourne for the second time.

“I thought was playing really well serving great, returning well, too. I was really taking it to him,” McDonald said on court after the match. “Hate that for him in the third set. It’s actually pretty tough to stay mentally engaged a little bit there, but I found a way to just pull it out. So I’m happy.”

McDonald, who will face either Yoshihito Nishioka or Dalibor Svrcina in the third round, had nothing but praise for the 36-year-old legend of the game.

“He’s an incredible champion,” he said. “He’s never gonna give up regardless of the situation. So even closing it out against the top guy like that is always tough. I was trying to say so focused on what I was doing, and he kind of got me out of the rhythm with that.”

Wide open top half

Nadal becomes the first top-seeded men’s singles player to lose before the third round since 2002 (Lleyton Hewitt), and his departure from the draw leaves a land of opportunity for players such as seventh-seeded Daniil Medvedev, 16th-seeded Frances Tiafoe, third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas, sixth-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime and others.

Tiafoe, who defeated China’s Shang Juncheng in straight sets to reach the third round on Wednesday, was slated to face Nadal in the round of 16. Medvedev, who lost to Nadal from two sets up in last year’s final in Melbourne, was drawn to face Nadal in the quarter-finals.

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