Rafael Nadal arrived in Melbourne in a tough moment, having lost six of his previous seven matches. But as always, the Spaniard had a positive attitude and was ready to battle as deep as possible at the Australian Open.
The top seed’s left hip prevented him from doing so. After falling behind Mackenzie McDonald on Wednesday in the second round, the lefty hurt his left hip running for a ball at 3-4 in the second set. From there, the match was the American’s for the taking, and take it McDonald did by a 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 margin.
“Sometimes it’s frustrating. Sometimes it’s difficult to accept. Sometimes you feel super tired about all this stuff in terms of injuries. Can’t come here and say, lying, that the life is fantastic and staying positive and keep fighting. Not now. Tomorrow starts another day,” Nadal said. “Now it’s a tough moment. It’s a tough day, and you need to accept that, and keep going.
“In the end, I can’t complain about my life at all. So just in terms of sports and in terms of injuries and tough moments, I mean, that’s another one. Just can’t say that I am not destroyed mentally at this time, because I will be lying.
“Yeah, it’s hard for me. But let’s see. I mean, hopefully it’s nothing too bad. In the end [it] has been three positive weeks in terms of practice. So I really hope that [this] doesn’t put me out of the court for a long time, because then it’s tough to make all the recovery again. It’s not only the recovery. It’s all the amount of work that you need to put together to come back at a decent level.”
Nadal admitted that he had felt the problem in his hip before taking the court for his match against McDonald. But it really became an issue late in the second set.
“It has been a couple of days like this, but nothing like today in that movement. I don’t know. We’re going to start talking about that now, but I don’t know what’s going on, if it’s muscle, if it’s [the] joint,” Nadal said. “I have history in the hip that I had issues. I had to do treatments in the past, address a little. Was not this amount of problem. Now I feel I cannot move.
“But I don’t know ’til I do the test and all this stuff, I don’t know. It’s difficult to make resolution if it’s a muscle, if it’s the joint, if it’s the cartilage. I don’t know. Yeah, that’s it.”
With McDonald leading 6-4, 5-3, Nadal left the court with a physio for a medical timeout, and it was unclear if he would return. But the Spaniard showed his trademark fighting spirit by continuing on. Ultimately, the deficit and injury were too much to overcome.
“I considered all the time stopping, but I didn’t ask the physiotherapist at the end. I have to know myself. And I tried to keep playing without increasing the damage. That’s it,” Nadal said. “I was not able to hit the backhand at all. I was not able to run for the ball. But I just wanted to finish the match.”
The Spaniard further explained his reasoning for refusing to stop despite how clearly the injury was affecting his game.
“I didn’t want to retire, to be defending champion here. I didn’t want to leave the court with a retirement. Better like this at the end. I lost. Nothing to say. Congratulate the opponent,” Nadal said. “That’s the sport at the same time. Just try your best till the end. Doesn’t matter the chances that you have. That’s the philosophy of the sport. That’s the essence of the sport by itself. I tried to follow that during all my tennis career, and I tried of course to not increase the damage, because I didn’t know what’s going on.”
The 22-time major winner was not in control of the match even before the injury hampered his game. McDonald showed his aggressive intent from the first ball, breaking the lefty’s serve immediately.
“[It] was a very tough beginning of the match. The second set I think had big opportunity coming back for 3-2, Love-30. Then he broke me. I don’t know.
I think he was in a better position than me, without a doubt, but remained a lot to play, too,” Nadal said. “I think during the match every time I was a little bit closer and was understanding better the things that I had to do to overcome the situation. Doesn’t matter now.”
The lefty did not want to speak in hypotheticals and was clear he does not enjoy discussing “Ifs”. At the end of the press conference, a reporter asked Nadal what keeps him motivated to continue pushing through these difficult moments.
“It’s a very simple thing: 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,” Nadal said. “And that’s it.”