Rafael Nadal competed at this year's Australian Open as the top seed in the absence of Carlos Alcaraz. The defending champion had been struggling with injuries for over half a year ahead of Melbourne, heading to the season's first Major unprepared.
However, Rafa gave his best and competed, passing the opening obstacle before losing in the second round. Thus, the Spaniard became the first top seed who failed to reach the third round at a Major since Lleyton Hewitt at Wimbledon 2003.
A qualifier Ivo Karlovic stunned Hewitt in the opening round at The All England Club, and Rafa followed Lleyton's negative record two decades later. Nadal beat Jack Draper in the first round before falling to Mackenzie McDonald 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 in the second.
Rafa suffered a left hip injury in the second set and fought until the end, although it was not to be for him. It was Nadal's earliest Major exit in seven years, continuing his poor run and losing almost 2000 ATP points.
Rafael Nadal produced the worst result for a top seed at Majors since 2003.
McDonald tamed his strokes nicely and stayed focused against the rival who could not play his best. The American played brave tennis and built the lead in the quickest rallies up to four strokes. He broke Nadal five times and lost serve two times to control the pace and move into the third round.
The lower-ranked player made a flying start and broke Rafa in the opener's games one and five, moving 4-1 up in under 20 minutes. Nadal reduced the deficit with a break in game six, and McDonald fended off a break point at 5-4 to bring the set home.
The second set saw back-to-back breaks in the early stage. Rafa squandered a game point at 3-3 and got broken following a forced error. The American landed an ace in the eighth game to confirm the advantage, and the Spaniard asked for a medical timeout on his left hip.
Rafa left the court and held in game nine to prolong the set and his chances once he returned. McDonald brought the set home after Nadal's tired forehand at 5-4 to drive closer to the finish line. Rafa continued and gave his best in the third set, fighting like a true champion despite struggling to move or hit a backhand.
He fired an ace on a break point at 4-4 and held to extend the battle. Mackenzie leveled the score at 5-5 and placed a backhand down the line winner in the next one to grab a decisive break. The American served for the victory in game 12 and landed a service winner to seal the deal and send the Spaniard packing. It remains Nadal's most recent match, struggling to recover and missing the rest of the season.
• Courier shares a massive prediction: "Djokovic will win the 2024 Australian Open"• Rafael Nadal reveals his comeback plan - the return gets closer!• Younes El Aynaoui recounts beating Rafael Nadal, his thoughts when he first met him• Next Gen Abdullah Shelbayh tells how Rafael Nadal inspired his switch to left hand• Rafael Nadal reacts to Jannik Sinner-led Italy winning Davis Cup title • Novak Djokovic details why he cannot be friends with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal