No. 1 seed and defending champion Rafael Nadal was shocked Wednesday in the second round of the 2023 Australian Open, falling 6-4, 6-4, 7-5, to American Mackenzie McDonald.
While Nadal was outplayed in the first two sets, the deathblow to his chances of repeating as champion came in the third set, when he suffered a hip injury and needed to be checked on by a doctor.
Nadal finished the match, but he was clearly limited by the ailment. He explained afterward that he didn't want to retire due to his status as the reigning champ:
Catherine Murphy @CathMurphySport
Rafael Nadal says he tried to the end but it was "impossible". <br><br>Doesn't know extent of hip injury.<br><br>He said he wasn't able to hit his backhand or run but he wanted to finish the match. <br><br>Says he didn't want to retire as a defending champion. <br><br>All class. Always. <a href="https://twitter.com/abcsport?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@abcsport</a>
Watching Nadal struggle to the finish line was difficult for some of his fans, and they responded in kind on social media:
Bharath Ramaraj @Fancricket12
It was sad to see a hobbling Nadal lose.<br><br>As someone who has watched <a href="https://twitter.com/RafaelNadal?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@RafaelNadal</a> since 2003-04, I do believe he still has the game to win a major or two. Of course no one would know better than Nadal himself about how his body is holding up.
Wali Khan @WaliKhan_TK
Rafael Nadal fans right now 😢😭😢 🇪🇸 🎾 <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/AusOpen?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#AusOpen</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/RafaelNadal%F0%93%83%B5?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#RafaelNadal𓃵</a> <a href="https://t.co/v2ndc4d1Gd">pic.twitter.com/v2ndc4d1Gd</a>
As a tennis fan who has been entertained and inspired by the tennis of <a href="https://twitter.com/RafaelNadal?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@RafaelNadal</a>, I feel terribly bad for how his body doesn't keep up with that god given talent of his. No matter the outcome today, he will always be one of the GOAT's for me and an unparalleled warrior
The Tennis Podcast @TennisPodcast
The <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/AusOpen?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#AusOpen</a> has often been a painful place for Nadal:<br><br>2011 injured in QF<br>2014 injured in final<br>2018 injured in SF <br>Three other final losses<br><br>He defied all of that in 2022 which is what made it so special. A miracle.<br><br>But it hurts again in 2023 💔
Others focused on Nadal's lingering goodbye to the supportive fans at Rod Laver Arena and expressed hope that Wednesday's loss was not his Australian Open swansong:
The 2022 champion leaves the Australian Open to a standing ovation 💙<br><br>Let's hope it's not the last time we see Rafa Nadal on Rod Laver Arena 🤞🇦🇺<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/AusOpen?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#AusOpen</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/RafaelNadal?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@RafaelNadal</a> <a href="https://t.co/O828vnYnbz">pic.twitter.com/O828vnYnbz</a>
Nadal's loss is a major story given his status as an all-time great and winner of a record 22 Grand Slam singles titles, but McDonald's performance deserves praise as well.
The 27-year-old entered the 2023 Australian Open having never made it further than the fourth round at a Grand Slam, including four exits in the second round or earlier out of his five previous Aussie Open appearances.
McDonald has also never won an ATP singles title, with his closest call being a three-set loss to Jannik Sinner in the Washington Open final in 2021.
Wednesday's victory over Nadal was by far the biggest of McDonald's career, and while the injury helped his cause in the end, the American already had the Spaniard on the ropes entering the third set.
Nadal has overcome many of those types of deficits over the years, so it is possible he may have done it again had he been healthy, but McDonald sealed the deal in a situation where many have tended to fold.
Now, McDonald is set to face 31st-seeded Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan in the third round and could face No. 16 seed and fellow American Frances Tiafoe in the fourth round.
As for Nadal, he will regroup and tend to his injury in hopes that he will be fully healthy by the end of May, when he will look to win a 15th career French Open title.