This is hardly the first time that Rafael Nadal’s body has betrayed him. That much we know. No one – not even the 22-time Grand Slam champion – could possibly accurately predict what would happen next.
First things first: How badly did Nadal hurt his hip during Wednesday’s 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 loss to 65th-ranked Mackenzie McDonald in the second round of the Australian Open? Was there muscle, joint or cartilage damage? What will recovery do? When can Nadal return to the ATP Tour?
He will do medical tests to try to find out some answers. What no MRI or X-ray can reveal, what no doctor can determine, is perhaps the most important question: How much more of this kind of thing is she willing to put up with? “I’ve been through this process many times in my career and I’m ready to continue (it), I think,” Nadal said after his first major tournament exit in seven years, “but this Not easy, no doubt.”
It’s only natural that people will wonder what this all means for her future, especially with the retirements of Roger Federer and Serena Williams still on the mind.
Nadal turns 37 in 4 1/2 months. The brokenness created by his punishing brand of play-h-point-as-if-it-might-be-the-last is undeniable. So, perhaps, it takes a psychological toll on the work he’s become accustomed to, to be able to compete at this level.
“Sometimes it’s frustrating. Sometimes it’s hard to accept,” a frustrated Nadal said. “Sometimes you feel very tired about all these things, in terms of injuries.” Alone. Over the past 12 months, he has been troubled by damaged rib cartilage … and chronic pain in his left foot from nerve-numbing injections during his French Open title. was eliminated by … and a ruptured abdomen that forced him out of Wimbledon.
“It’s a difficult moment. It’s a difficult day,” he said. “I can’t say I’m not mentally destroyed right now, because I’d be lying.” Nadal explained that his left hip was so bad on Wednesday, he couldn’t hit backhands or run much. He considered quitting but played on because he was the reigning champion.
Nadal was also seeded No.1 at Melbourne Park, as top-ranked Carlos Alcaraz is out with a leg injury. (As an aside: All of the absences, for various reasons, are surprising: Naomi Osaka, Ash Barty, Simona Halep, Venus Williams, Nick Kyrgios.) McDonald, a 27-year-old American who has won NCAA singles and doubles titles. UCLA claimed just four total games the second time it lost to Nadal in 2016, nearly 2 1/2 years ago.
McDonald said Wednesday after the biggest victory of his career that his emotions were “a little more flat and stale than I thought they would be.” Why? “Because,” said McDonald, “of circumstances.” This was not a Nadal at the height of his powers.
He has won two of his last nine matches, following a fourth-round loss to Frances Tiafoe at the US Open in September.
“I definitely thought it was a chance. … He seems a step slower,” MacDonald said. “Look, he’s doing his best. I mean, he’s a great champion. He’s trying to make the most of what he can. He’s (almost) 37 years old here. “His body isn’t what it used to be, I’m sure. I definitely think now is the best time to play him. With so much still unknown, Nadal offered a little insight when asked. Find out what motivates them to do what it takes to come back from an injury.
“It’s a very simple thing: I love what I do. I love playing tennis. I know it’s not forever. … I love to fight for the things I love. “I’ve been fighting for almost half of my life or more,” Nadal said. “Sacrifice is doing what you want to do.”