Opinion: Nadal cannot recover from his Australian Open loss


Credit: Courtesy of Creative Commons user Carine06

WSPN’s Jeffery Zhang reflects on Rafael Nadal’s loss at the 2023 Australian Open.

Jeffery Zhang

Nadal’s serve out of the Australian Open came as a shock to many people, his loss plastering the sports section of the New York Times. While his loss may seem totally unforeseen, it is a result of many factors. However, the most obvious factor is Nadal’s age.

On Jan. 17, 2023, Rafael Nadal lost in the second round of the Australian Open in a brutal three straight-sets match to American player Mackenzie McDonald. After only one set, Nadal injured his hip while chasing down a shot in the second set. His hip injury would follow him the rest of the match, before he inevitably lost.

One of the biggest upsets of the tournament, Nadal’s injury leads many to wonder if the Spaniard is done for good.

Nadal turns 37-years-old on June 3, 2023. He’s played an impressive 22 years of professional tennis and has won a multitude of tournaments. However, you can’t simply expect Nadal to continue playing at the level he once played. In all sports, athletes are like flames. They can only burn for so long before running out. Like a flame, Nadal can’t play forever, and his fuse is near the end.

You’d think that maybe Nadal’s higher number of unforced errors meant that Nadal was sacrificing consistency for power, but no. Nadal tied McDonald in total winner shots and was basically outclassed in this match. To make matters worse, Nadal only won 49% of the points off of his second-serve and only 62% of his first-serve, both of which were lower than McDonald’s 63% second-serve win rate and 68% first-serve win rate. Nadal’s stats are disappointing and his loss is even more dispiriting. Where does Nadal go now?

The statistics of Nadal’s match were all over the place. Nadal’s ability to cover the court was far worse than usual and it seemed that with every point extending over five shots, McDonald would pelt a ball just out of Nadal’s reach. Nadal also never seemed to be able to generate enough spin or power in his ground strokes, racking up a total of 31 unforced errors compared to McDonald’s 22 errors.

The first thought that comes to mind is retirement. Many people love Nadal and don’t want to see him retire, but it’s almost time. Nadal can’t continue to compete against the rising stars like Jannik Sinner or Felix Auger-Aliassime. We’ve seen his performance against McDonald. Yes, he persevered through his hip injury. Yes, he fought to win and gave it his all, but that is not enough. He won’t win. His long-term rival Roger Federer has already retired. The players he’s played with and against are retiring more frequently. What does this mean for the Big Three? The Big Three already witnessed the retirement of Roger Federer, and if Nadal goes too it’ll leave only Djokovic to carry on the legacy of the Big Three.

I respect Nadal a great deal. For almost the entirety of the 22 years he’s played on the professional tour, he’s been a warrior on and off the court. He is a role model for dedication and diligence and is a figure known for his passion and for his effort. Though Nadal’s career has been monumental, there comes a time when kings need to step down. Nadal’s loss at the Australian Open is the end.