Rafael Nadal made history at the Australian Open a year ago when he won a then-record 21st Grand Slam crown, but his dispiriting defeat on Wednesday raises fresh questions about how much longer the ailing Spaniard can keep going.
Nadal’s wife Mery was in tears at Rod Laver Arena as her injury-hampered husband succumbed 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 to 65th-ranked Mackenzie McDonald of the United States.
Nadal hobbled out of the arena, his hip sore and his title defence over after just two matches.
So what now for one of the best men’s tennis players of all time?
In the short term, 36-year-old Nadal needs to diagnose and fix his hip.
In the aftermath of his physically and emotionally painful defeat, Nadal said he had had the problem for “a couple of days” but did not know what the issue was.
“I don’t know what’s going on, if it’s muscle, if it’s joint,” the deflated Spaniard told reporters.
“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.”
As far as Nadal is concerned, the future beyond that is clearer – he says that he intends to carry on playing.
“From here on, I guess when things move…