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Rafael Nadal loses at Australian Open after hip injury

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The latest in a recent string of injuries befell Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open on Wednesday, when he lost, 6-4, 6-4, 7-5, in the second round to Mackenzie McDonald, an American who has never cracked the world’s top 40.

The 36-year-old Nadal, who has battled rib, abdominal, foot and ankle injuries as he pursues a record 23rd Grand Slam men’s singles title, hurt his left hip Wednesday as he chased a shot during the second set. He reacted with concern immediately, as did his coaches and wife sitting courtside, but he continued to play because, as he said later, “I didn’t want to retire [from the match] as defending champion here.” Instead, he hobbled through the loss, then left to a rousing ovation from the Melbourne Park crowd.

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Later, he spoke of the latest disappointment in his pursuit of tennis history, with Novak Djokovic hot on his heels with only one fewer major title. “I can’t say that I am not destroyed mentally this time [from all the injuries], because I would be lying,” Nadal said.

Coming into the Australian Open, the year’s first Grand Slam event, Nadal had lost six of his previous seven matches, and he is vulnerable to youngsters who have not yet absorbed the battering he has from his physical style of play. Nadal’s injury history has made his future in the sport a question he preferred not to immediately address.

“Mackenzie was playing at a great level of tennis,” Nadal told reporters, admitting that his hip had bothered him for the past few days. “A long time I was there, fighting, having my chances, but he was doing well. I was not doing that well. I’m tired to talk about [injuries]. I lost the match. That’s it. I tried till the end.”

Nadal’s next opportunity for his 23rd major will come in late May and early June on the French Open’s clay courts, where he won his 14th singles title last year. On Wednesday, he sounded like a man ready to battle his body again.

“At the end, you need to keep going,” he said. “Sometimes it’s frustrating. Sometimes it’s difficult to accept. Sometimes you feel super tired about all this stuff in terms of injuries. … It’s hard for me. But let’s see. Hopefully is nothing too bad. In the end, have been three positive weeks in terms of practice.

“So I really hope that that don’t put me out of the court for a long time, because then it’s tough to make all the recovery again, all the amount of work that you need to put together to come back at a decent level.”

Recovery is a process he has gone through “too many times,” but he expressed his motivation to continue to play even as he edges closer to joining Roger Federer in retirement.

“It’s a very simple thing: I like what I do. I like playing tennis,” he said. “I know it’s not forever. I like to feel myself competitive. I like to fight for the things that I have been fighting for almost half of my life or even more.

“When you do things that you like to do, at the end of the day, it’s not a sacrifice.”

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