Rafael Nadal, the injured defending champion, was knocked out of the Australian Open in round two by American Mackenzie McDonald, who is ranked 65th. This was his lowest Grand Slam performance in seven years.
The 36-year-old Spanish player, who was battling a hip pain, lost 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 at Rod Laver Arena.
Losing gives Nadal’s arch-rival Novak Djokovic the opportunity to tie him for the most Grand Slam titles with 22 wins. The Serb has returned to Melbourne after being expelled in 2017 and missing the competition.
Top seed Nadal never seemed to find his footing, falling behind a set before needing a medical break after he broke down in the second set while straining for a forehand and grunting in pain.
He persisted despite being obviously uncomfortable due to his limited range of motion.
Mery, his wife, was spotted sobbing in the audience.
There have been a few days like this, but none quite like today in terms of mobility, according to Nadal. “I don’t know if it’s a muscle issue or a joint issue.
“I could not at all strike the backhand. I was unable to chase the ball down. But all I wanted was to win the game. There you go.
“As the current champion here, I didn’t want to retire. I didn’t want to retire from the court, that’s for sure.
The previous Grand Slam in which Nadal lost so early was the Australian Open in 2016, when he was eliminated in the first round.
They had previously encountered each other in a Grand Slam second-round match. On that occasion, at the 2020 French Open, Nadal won easily with just four games lost.
This time, McDonald always had the upper hand as Nadal was put on the back foot after being broken in his first service game and the American raced out to a 4-1 lead.
Before recovering a break, Nadal complained to the umpire that he was being hurried on his serve. At 4-5, he had another break point to even the score, but the American held on to win the set.
Despite Nadal leaving the court during the changeover, McDonald maintained to dominate as Nadal’s serve once more failed to fire, breaking early.
The Spaniard was in precarious position, but he managed to recover and tie the set at 2-2, just as he has countless times before.
In the eighth game, which he lost before stumbling back to his seat, the blunders started to return, and he was broken once more before hurting himself at 15-30.
The physio was summoned, and his wife could be heard sobbing in the players’ box as he left the field for a medical timeout while muttering “hip” in Spanish.
He came back and cheerfully continued, but he was only a shell of the man he once was.
It was difficult to remain mentally focused, but McDonald managed to pull it off.
He is a fantastic champion who will never give up, no matter the circumstances. He kind of knocked me out of my rhythm as I was trying to keep focused, but I managed to get through it.
On the same court the previous year, Nadal made history by defeating Daniil Medvedev in the final in five sets.
With 21, he now holds the record for the most Grand Slam men’s singles victories, surpassing Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.
At Roland Garros, he added a 22nd, while Djokovic won Wimbledon and advanced to 21.