The image of Rafael Nadal standing in the middle of Rod Laver Arena waving goodbye to the jam-packed crowd is as heartbreaking as it gets.
Nadal once again proved he has the heart of a warrior as he remained on court despite his body giving up on him during his loss to American Mackenzie McDonald.
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The Spaniard suffered a hip injury during the second set, but didn’t want to bow out of his title defence without attempting to put up a fight.
In the end, McDonald finished things off in straight sets, claiming the 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 victory.
But it was what unfolded next that left many fears fearing it could be the final time we see the superstar at the Australian Open.
The 22-time Grand Slam winner collected his bags and instead of walking off the court, he slowly hobbled his way to the middle of the court and waved goodbye to all sections of the crowd.
It was a heartbreaking farewell and one that exposes a reality tennis fans aren’t willing to yet accept.
The clock could be set to strike midnight on the legend’s career and that wave may be the last time we see him Down Under for a Grand Slam.
The 36-year-old trudged back to the locker room and as Code Sports’ Adam Peacock noted he “could barely make it” up a flight of stairs.
For years we’ve written the champion lefty off only for him to time and again rise like a phoenix from the ashes.
In 2022 he added another two Grand Slam’s to his vast trophy cabinet to distance himself from Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic on the all-time list.
But doing so required herculean efforts. His foot injury flared during the Australian Open and got so bad throughout the French Open that he left with the trophy on crutches.
At Wimbledon an abdominal tear forced him to withdraw from his highly-anticipated showdown with Nick Kyrgios.
This year the normally dominant superstar has appeared mortal and like he’s playing on borrowed time.
He lost to Cameron Norrie and Alex de Minaur at the United Cup and got through his opening round encounter in a tough four-set contest.
In total he’s lost seven out of his past nine singles matches. Something we’ve not seen from the Spanish master in what feels like an eternity.
He’s continually put his battered body through fights that would cripple most men. All those battles appear to be catching up to him.
The tears from his wife Mery were hard to watch and appeared to signal to those watching on the curtain could be on its way.
Nadal became a first-time father in 2022, a factor which will arguably sway him more than any other.
On court he’s unrivalled. There’s nothing left for him to achieve and nothing left for him to prove to those who have watched on in astonishment over the years.
But despite everything he has done and proven throughout his historic career, it doesn’t seem right that we’ll soon be living in a world where Grand Slams will roll around without his name on the draw.
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