Mackenzie McDonald upset a hobbled Rafael Nadal 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 on Wednesday in the second round of the Australian Open, eliminating the top seed after two hours and 32 minutes.
“I’m really happy with how I started that match,” McDonald said. “I thought I was playing really well, serving great, returning well too. I was really taking it to him.”
At 4-3 in the second set, Nadal moved to his left to chase a forehand on the first point of the game when he pulled up in pain with a left hip injury. At 5-3, the defending champion left the court with a physio for a medical timeout.
Although the 22-time Grand Slam champion battled on, he was clearly not 100 per cent physically for the rest of the match. It is the earliest exit at a major for Nadal since he lost in the first round of the 2016 Australian Open in five sets against countryman Fernando Verdasco.
“It was 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 said. “He’s an incredible champion. He’s never going to give up, regardless of the situation. Closing it out against a top guy like that is always tough.
“I was trying to stay so focussed on what I was doing, and he kind of got me out of the rhythm with that. I’m happy I just kept focussing on myself in the end and got through, I got it done.”
McDonald is into the third round at the Australian Open for the second time, having advanced to the fourth round in 2021. This was his second victory against a Top 10 opponent (2-13) and he will next play 31st seed Yoshihito Nishioka or Czech qualifier Dalibor Svrcina.
In the only previous ATP Head2Head clash between McDonald and Nadal, the Spaniard triumphed with the loss of just four games at Roland Garros in 2020. The American made clear from the start of the match that this encounter would not be as straightforward, breaking the lefty’s serve immediately.
“I think I’ve got the guns to [beat him]. I was blasting the ball, hitting really flat. Last time I played him was on Chatrier. He kicked my butt,” McDonald said. “On a clay court it’s tough to hit through, but here, I like my chances on hard. I really wanted to take it to him on a hard court. I’m happy I got that opportunity and got away with [a win].”
McDonald would go on to break Nadal’s serve five times in the match, ultimately claiming the final break at 5-5 in the third set. The American hit a shoveled backhand passing shot up the line past Nadal, whose movement had been hampered.
But before the injury, McDonald showed no fear of the moment inside Rod Laver Arena. The Californian, who is coached by former World No. 15 Robby Ginepri, was comfortable in baseline rallies with the Spaniard.
McDonald did not shy away from Nadal’s forehand, and the lefty was not able to consistently put the World No. 65 on the back foot. The American hit 42 winners to just 22 unforced errors to earn the biggest win of his career.