Rafael Nadal: Hampered by injury, what’s next for 22-time grand slam winner following Australian Open exit?



Images of Rafael Nadal leaving the court with an injury has sadly become an all too familiar sight for tennis fans.

Nadal’s defense of his Australian Open The title came to an early end on Wednesday, when the 22-time Grand Slam champion was eliminated in the second round by American Mackenzie McDonald.

Nadal struggled throughout the match with what appeared to be a hip injury, and at one point in the second set he retired in great pain, before eventually requiring treatment.

On Thursday, Nadal said an MRI scan had revealed the hip injury could keep him out of competition for up to two months.

“I did some medical tests yesterday after the loss,” said Nadal said in a tweet. “The MRI showed that I have a grade 2 injury in my left iliopsoas. Now comes some rest from sports and anti-inflammatory physiotherapy. Normal recovery time is 6 to 8 weeks.”

It’s a testament to Nadal’s remarkable tenacity and willpower—characteristics that have come to define him and his incredible career—that he refused to pull out of Wednesday’s game, opting instead to hobble on to the end.

Such was the Spaniard’s determination and apparent pain tolerance that he somehow managed to make it a tough game for McDonald, who went on to win 6-4 6-4 7-5 in two hours 32 minutes.

Cameras in the tunnel captured how Nadal looked emotionally as he trudged back to the locker room after the game, later defiantly saying that retiring was never on his mind.

“I didn’t want to retire [as] the defending champion here. I didn’t want to leave court with a pension,” Nadal told reporters.

“It’s better that way in the end. I lost, nothing to say, congratulate [my] opponent. That is the sport at the same time: just do your best until the end.”

This new injury is the latest in a long list that has hampered Nadal throughout his career. With Vadertje Time gradually catching up with the 36-year-old, Nadal’s injuries have become more common in the past two years.

He won the first two grand slams of 2022 – the Australian Open and the French Open – in stunning fashion and played brilliant tennis at Wimbledon before an abdominal injury broke his bid for a third consecutive major title.

Injuries to his knees, elbows, left foot and left wrist have been a constant nuisance for Nadal and his recent injury woes appear to have affected his level of performance on the tennis court, with the world number 2 taking just one win from his previous six matches.

Former British tennis player Laura Robson, who won Junior Wimbledon when she was 14, had a promising career cut short by injuries and understands not only the physical toll they take, but also the mental strength it takes to keep bouncing back.

“Probably for Rafa, same as for me. It’s just that constant feeling that you’re on your heels, trying to exercise as much as you can, but constantly dealing with problems in your body and not being able to work out.” the level you want to commit to,” Robson, now a tennis commentator, told CNN Sport’s Amanda Davies.

“He’s been through a lot of things in the last 18 months, even last summer you go back to Wimbledon where he played excellent tennis after an incredible run in Australia and Paris. [for the French Open] and he’s deep in a slam and the ab[dominal] makes way.

Rafael Nadal admitted he was

“Here we are again, six months later, and he is dealing with another problem in that same area. It seemed to me like it was a problem with the hip flexors, but these things happen and unfortunately some people are more prone to injury than others, it’s how you deal with it that matters.

“He’s done incredibly well in his career so far, so I have no doubt he’ll be back better than ever. He just needs some time.”

As Robson points out, the fact that Nadal has overcome so many injuries during his career only makes his record of 22 grand slams all the more remarkable.

As is the case with any aging athlete, questions about retirement inevitably begin to swirl as form declines or injuries become more common.

Nadal, for his part, was optimistic after his second-round defeat, insisting he was not thinking about the ‘R’ word.

For now, he insisted, his continued love of the sport outweighs the desire to hang up his racket.

“It’s very simple: I love what I do,” Nadal told reporters, per ESPN. “I love playing tennis and I know it’s not forever. I like to feel competitive. I like to fight for the things I’ve been fighting for almost half my life.

“If you like doing one thing, sacrifices always make sense in the end, because the word ‘sacrifice’ isn’t like that. When you do things you love to do, it’s not a sacrifice in the end. You do the things you want to do.”

While the injuries are undoubtedly frustrating – Nadal admitted to feeling “mentally destroyed” after the latest setback – he’s been here many times before and knows better than anyone what it takes to bounce back.

Like his old friend and rival Roger Federer did in the twilight of his career, strategically picking and choosing which tournaments and grand slams to participate in could be an option to prolong Nadal’s life.

The French Open, Nadal’s favorite tournament and a title he has won a staggering 14 times, is the next major on the tennis calendar and if he can shake off his recent injuries, the Spaniard is likely still the favorite to win it. grand slam win. come end of May.

Nadal has been questioning his retirement for some time and did so again on Wednesday, but Robson believes stars like the 22-time Grand Slam champ should be able to broach the subject on their own terms and in their own time.

“I don’t like to talk about someone’s retirement before they talk about it themselves,” Robson said.

“He’ll be the first to bring it up and I think he deserves that. He’s given so much to this sport over the years and he’s still coming out, still trying, still competing to the best of his ability, even if he is not 100% physically.

“We’ve been through it so many times with Andy [Murray]with Roger [Federer]with Venus and Serena [Williams] on the women’s side, who are trying to retire these legends before they’re ready to go. In the end it’s up to him. If he feels good, it will be fine.

“I don’t think we should be constantly speculating about when that will be. If today was the last day in Australia, who knows, and if it was, we’re lucky he was here again, and if not, fantastic, we’ll see him next year.”

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