Forged in Victory: Rafael Nadal's Steel Statue Rises at Melbourne Park

Rafael Nadal had to withdraw from this year's Australian Open due to an injury

by Jovica Ilic
Forged in Victory: Rafael Nadal's Steel Statue Rises at Melbourne Park
© Chris Hyde / Stringer - Getty Images Sport

A 22-time Major winner Rafael Nadal is not competing at this year's Australian Open, suffering a micro tear in his muscle in Brisbane and skipping the season's opening Major. However, Kia Motors Corporation, Rafa's sponsor since 2004, honored the legend by installing a 2,5 meter-tall steel statue at Melbourne Park, celebrating two decades of their partnership.

A sculptor from Sydney, Gustavo Balboa, crafted the statue from durable steel and recycled materials, showing Rafa in his well-known position after hitting a forehand. Nadal's first Australian Open title came in 2009 after epic wins over Fernando Verdasco and Roger Federer.

The Spaniard lost the next five Australian Open finals, missing the elusive second Melbourne Park crown. However, it came in 2022 after an incredible battle against Daniil Medvedev. The Russian led 6-2, 7-6, 3-2, 40-0, moving closer to the finish line before the Spaniard launched one of his career-best comebacks, prevailing after five and a half hours and lifting his second Australian Open trophy at 35.

Rafa returned to Melbourne a year ago, eager to compete despite a slim chance of regaining the crown. Nadal beat Jack Draper in the first round and faced Mackenzie McDonald in the second. Rafa suffered a severe hip injury in the second set, refusing to retire but hitting the exit door in straight sets, experiencing his worst Major loss since 2016.

A hip injury ruined Nadal's season, forcing him to undergo surgery in June and miss the rest of the action. The veteran hit the practice court in the second part of the year, making progress and announcing his comeback for the first week of 2024.

Nadal kicked off the new season in Brisbane, playing his first match after 349 days.

Rafael Nadal received a statue at Melbourne Park.

The Spaniard met Dominic Thiem in the first round and presented his well-known tennis, breaking the rival's resistance in the opening set's closing stages and storming over the second to celebrate a win.

Nadal was too strong for Jason Kubler in the second round, playing well on serve and return and arranging the quarter-final clash with Jordan Thompson. Rafa and Jordan battled for three hours and 25 minutes, and the veteran's body could not endure that effort.

Nadal squandered three match points in a 5-7, 7-6, 6-3 loss, missing his chances in the second set and feeling the pain around his troubled hip in the decider, requiring a medical timeout. After an MRI, Rafa announced a micro tear in his muscle, withdrawing from the Australian Open and traveling home to Spain.

If everything goes right, Nadal should compete again in February, targeting Doha or the South American clay court swing.

Rafael Nadal Melbourne Park Australian Open