Tennis legend Rafael Nadal may have played his last match in Australia after being stunned by an unseeded American.
Nadal, 36, lost in straight sets to Mackenzie McDonald to exit the Australian Open, a year after winning the tournament.
He has 22 grand slam titles to his name but looked in serious discomfort when he had to leave the court for a medical timeout during the second set on Tuesday.
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He grabbed at his side in pain, and his wife Maria was seen crying in the stands as her husband was seen to. Nadal later said it was a hip injury that floored him.
Nadal returned and made a fightback of sorts in the third set, but ultimately could not muster the energy to win and went down 6-4, 6-4, 7-5.
“I have history in the hip that I had issues. I had to do treatments in the past, address a little,” Nadal told journalists post-match.
“(But it) was not this amount of problem. Now I feel I cannot move.”
Nadal won the Open last year against all odds, mounting an incredible comeback to beat Daniil Medvedev in the final.
He has 22 slams to his name but speculation is rife he will not be back at Melbourne Park, and will following in the footsteps of fellow legend Roger Federer, who retired last year.
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Nadal saluted the crowd, who gave him a standing ovation as he left the court.
“You never know what to read into moments like that,” Jim Courier said on Nine.
“You can obviously imagine he will be back… also imagine that he won’t be back.
Nadal cheered upon AO exit
“This might be the last time here. Let’s hope it’s not. But if it is he’s certainly left a big mark.”
But Nadal was not ready to talk about walking away from the game.
“Now it’s a tough moment. It’s a tough day, and you need to accept that, and keep going,” he said.
“I like what I do. I like playing tennis. I know it’s not forever.
“I like to feel myself competitive. I like to fight for the things that I have been fighting for almost half of my life or even more.
”But of course (the) last seven months have been, again, another tough period of time, and that’s it. I don’t know what can happen in the future.”
Nadal withdrew from last year’s Wimbledon draw before his quarter-final clash with Nick Kyrgios, having been hampered by an abdominal tear.
Tuesday’s injury looked eerily similar.
”It’s just all hard, isn’t it. Nadal’s body has betrayed him but his will to compete continues to keep him in this match,” Todd Woodbridge said in commentary on Tuesday.
Nadal’s loss was the earliest loss for the men’s top seed at the Australian Open since Lleyton Hewitt lost to Alberto Martin in round one, 2002.
Courier said, “This is terrible”.
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“It was just such a strange reaction. He genuinely looked like he was shocked. He stops and looks like he’s in absolute disbelief at what’s happened,” he added.
“I just hope it’s not the same problem that took him out of Wimbledon last year when he’d won so many matches in a row. He’s got problems and they’re real.”
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