Rafael Nadal succumbs to shock second-round Australian Open exit

Rafael Nadal succumbs to shock second-round Australian Open exit

The defending champion and top seed Rafael Nadal suffered a shock early exit from the 2023 Australian Open as the Spaniard laboured to a straight sets defeat to Mackenzie McDonald in the second round on Wednesday at Rod Laver Arena. The 22-time Grand Slam winner struggled with an injury during the second set and despite his best efforts to power through, succumbed to a 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 defeat to the unseeded American in two hours and 32 minutes.

Nadal headed into the 2023 Australian Open as the defending champion, looking to recreate his heroics from 2022 and win a third title in Melbourne. However, the Spaniard entered the first grand slam of the year amidst the leanest period of his career. Having lost to Francis Tiafoe in the fourth round of the 2022 US Open, Nadal’s form cratered in the latter half of the year.

The Spaniard lost in the first round of the Paris Master’s, was comprehensively beaten by Felix Auger-Aliassime and Taylor Fritz at the ATP World Tour Finals and was defeated by Cameron Norrie and Alex de Minaur at the United Cup in Sydney to start the 2023 season. Nadal was far from his best in his opening-round victory against Jack Draper in the 2023 Australian Open, and his sluggish form was on show in the opening stages of the second round against Mackenzie McDonald.

The American broke Nadal’s serve on his first try and was able to match the Spaniard’s groundstrokes from the baseline as he took the first set 6-4. McDonald also broke Nadal’s serve in the opening game of the second set, and the Spaniard’s troubles compounded at 4-3 as he injured himself while chasing a forehand on the baseline. The 36-year-old called for a medical timeout to resolve the hip issue and was hampered after returning as the world number 65 took a two-set lead.

The 22-time grand slam winner showed his champion mentality in the third set. Despite being hindered by his injury, Nadal refused to retire and pushed his opponent to 5-5. However, Mackenzie McDonald eventually powered through to break Nadal’s serve for the fifth time late in the set before consolidating to the other end to claim the biggest win of his career. This defeat is Nadal’s earliest exit since his five-set loss to Fernando Verdasco at the 2016 Australian Open, and the world number two admitted after the game that he is ‘mentally destroyed’ following this unexpected result.