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McDonald overcomes injured Nadal at AO 2023

  • Gill Tan

Men's singles second round

Defending Australian Open champion Rafael Nadal has been bundled out of Australian Open 2023, the 22-time Grand Slam winner labouring with a left hip injury in a straight-sets loss to Mackenzie McDonald on Wednesday at Rod Laver Arena.

MORE: All the scores from Day 3 at AO 2023

The American defeated the clearly compromised top seed 6-4 6-4 7-5 to reach the third round.

"I'm really happy with how I started that match, I thought I was playing really well, serving great, returning well too. I was really taking it to him," said the world No. 65, who had an edge on Nadal even before the Spaniard got hurt.

"I hate that for him," McDonald added, referencing the Spaniard's injury. 

MORE: "I didn't want to retire", says Nadal

"It's actually hard to stay mentally engaged there – I found a way to mentally pull it out, so I'm happy.

MORE: AO 2023 men's singles draw

"He's an incredible champion, he's never going to give up regardless of the situation."

McDonald stayed mentally engaged as the finish line loomed (Getty Images)

Nadal, a two-time champion at Melbourne Park, received a standing ovation as he exited Rod Laver Arena. 

"Closing it out against a top guy like that is always tough," McDonald said. 

"I was focusing on myself at the end, and just got through."

Even before Nadal's injury, the stage was set for a potential upset. The 36-year-old Majorcan started the 2023 season unusually slow, with upset defeats to Cam Norrie and Alex de Minaur at United Cup. While he pushed past Jack Draper in four sets in the round of 128 at Melbourne Park, the popular southpaw at times looked far from his best.

Contrastingly, McDonald has been on the ascent – he upset Dan Evans in Adelaide last week and at 27, carries the advantage of youth.

McDonald, showing no signs of fatigue after a gruelling four-hour first round stoush, came out of the blocks firing. Unafraid to back himself in long rallies, the Californian broke his decorated 36-year-old foe in the first and fifth games of the match before Nadal snatched one back.

While the duo traded explosive groundstrokes that elicited gasps of appreciation from the Rod Laver Arena crowd, McDonald punished Nadal's short returns with blistering, flat, balls that forced a slew of errors from Nadal's racquet, including on set point.  

The self-assured American began the second set much like the first, showcasing impeccable defence to a breathtaking 24-stroke rally in the opening game en route to breaking the Spaniard. But never count the Majorcan out – Nadal snuffed out McDonald's advantage, putting the match back on even footing at 2-2 just minutes after seeing off a break point that would have dug him into a 0-3 hole.

Relentless attacking from McDonald earned the right-hander a break that he consolidated for a 5-3 lead, but during that game, Nadal sustained a left hip injury as he chased a forehand along the baseline, and immediately left the court for a medical timeout to address it.

Nadal had his hands full with McDonald even before his second-set injury timeout (Getty Images)

Not distracted from what was unfolding on his opponent's side of the net, McDonald dug in to close out the second set.

Though Nadal's movement was clearly hindered, he hung tight in the third set. But at 5-5, the American finally seized a chance to break his wounded rival, who was serving up aces to save break points almost all the way to the finish.

Presented with a match point on serve, McDonald held firm to secure his second top-five career win in 11 attempts.

McDonald, who landed 14 aces to Nadal's six, was pleased with his effort. After being dealt a 6-1 6-0 6-3 lopsided loss by the Spaniard at Roland Garros in 2020, he's long wondered if a hard court battle would produce a different result.

"Last time I played him was on [Court Philippe] Chatrier, he kicked my butt," said McDonald. 

"I like my chances on hard (courts), I really wanted to take it to him on a hard court. I'm glad I had that opportunity and got away with it."

The Californian faces either qualifier Dalibor Svrcina or 31st seed Yoshihito Nishioka in the round of 32 for a chance to match – or better – his fourth round appearance at AO 2021.