Melbourne: Rafael Nadal admited he is “destroyed mentally” from the rigours of his injury-maligned career, but serves up hope to his millions of fans worldwide by insisting he will keep going, and keep fighting.
The world No.2’s Australian Open title defence ended on Wednesday when an inspired Mackenzie McDonald dominated proceedings en route to a memorable 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 win.
Nadal was visibly hampered by a hip injury, which struck in earnest in the second set. However, as a true champion he fought on, refusing to quit.
“I tried to keep playing without increasing the damage. But I just wanted to finish the match.”
“Mackenzie was playing at a great level of tennis. A long time I was there, fighting, having my chances, but he was doing well,” said Nadal, praising his opponent before dissecting his own troubles.
“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.”
The 2009 and 2022 champion at Melbourne Park admitted his left hip had been troublesome for a “couple of days,” a resurgence of a previous issue.
Unable to strike a backhand, taking on the world No.65 without free movement was agonising for the Spaniard.
Understandably, thoughts of retiring preoccupied the 22-time Grand Slam winner as the pain increased.
However, the honour of competing as the reigning champion was simply too strong. A sporting icon like Nadal respects such a role.
“I tried to keep playing without increasing the damage. But I just wanted to finish the match,” continued the 36-year-old, who received a standing ovation from the crowd.
“I didn’t want to retire, to be defending champion here. Better like this at the end. I lost. Congratulate the opponent.
“Just try your best till the end. Doesn’t matter the chances that you have. That’s the philosophy of sport. That’s the essence of the sport by itself. I tried to follow that during all my tennis career.”
The perpetual ‘ifs’ during his career have drained Nadal; he’s fed up with the grueling rehab and constant rebuilding back to the peak of his powers.
Yet the Spaniard’s countless fans could take heart from the fact the all-time great offered some defiant messages.
“It’s a very simple thing: I like what I do. I like playing tennis. I know it’s not forever.”
“You can imagine. I don’t need to talk and explain the feelings. At the end, you need to keep going,” maintained the world No.2.
“Sometimes it’s frustrating. Sometimes it’s difficult to accept. Sometimes you feel super tired about all this stuff in terms of injuries.
“I can’t complain about my life at all. So just in terms of sports and in terms of injuries and tough moments, that’s another one. Just can’t say that I am not destroyed mentally at this time, because I will be lying.
“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.
“I went through this process too many times in my career, and I am ready to keep doing, but that’s not easy, without a doubt.”
Nadal is intent on squeezing every last drop out of his legendary career, with his one-of-a-kind passion for tennis keeping the 36-year-old bouncing back.
“It’s a very simple thing: I like what I do. I like playing tennis. 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,” explained the Spaniard.
“When you do things that you like to do, at the end of the day, it’s not a sacrifice.”