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Australian Open: Rafael Nadal suffers early Melbourne exit

Rafael Nadal's reign as Australian Open champion is over after he suffered a shock straight-sets defeat to Mackenzie McDonald in the second round.

After easing past Britain's Jack Draper in four sets in his opening match, the Spaniard was again expected to put in an assured performance and reach the third round in Melbourne for the 17th time at the expense of McDonald.

However, the 36-year-old lost the first set and was trailing by a break in the second when he pulled up with what appeared to be a hip problem, an issue that had a profound effect on his on-court manoeuvrability from then on.

Nadal was visibly in pain for the rest of the contest and he ended up losing 6-4 6-3 7-5 - his earliest exit in the first Grand Slam of the season since 2016 when he fell at the first hurdle.

He also became the first top seed to be eliminated in the second round of the Australian Open since Gustavo Kuerten suffered this fate at the 2001 edition.

What2023 Australian Open
WhereMelbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia
WhenMonday 16th January - Sunday 29th January, 2023
How to watchEurosport, discovery+ & bet365 Sports Live Streaming
OddsNovak Djokovic 8/11, Daniil Medvedev 15/4, Taylor Fritz 10/1, Holger Rune 14/1, Jannik Sinner 14/1

Is this the end for Nadal?

The number of injuries Nadal has suffered with over the past few seasons is a big worry and he will surely be asking himself whether he can physically cope with the pressures of competing at the very top for much longer.

Roger Federer's body eventually gave up on him, forcing him to call time on his career, and it may not be too long until the Swiss is joined off the court by his long-time rival and great friend. 

Nadal will be eager to try and compete at the French Open, a tournament he has won a record 14 times, but there are even question marks over whether he will be fit enough for Paris now.

As things stand, Nadal is 5/2 To Win Outright the 2023 French Open and it would be rather fitting should he feature in the event one last time, given the level of success he has had in Paris.

The next couple of months will be crucial in deciding what the veteran does next, but there is a sense this could be the beginning of the end for the mens all-time record Grand Slam champion.

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Top half blown wide open

What Nadal's early exit has done is open up the top half of the men's draw, and there are several players now that are eyeing up a potential final appearance Down Under.

In the Spaniard's quarter, American Sebastian Korda, who was fancied to enjoy a strong run at the start of the tournament, is a player that may be looked at even more seriously now.

Frances Tiafoe, another representative of the Stars and Stripes, has already booked his third-round spot and his chances of going far have increased with Nadal's exit, especially as he could have met the 'King of Clay' in the fourth round.

There is, of course, Nadal's conqueror McDonald that has thrown his name in the spotlight and he awaits the winner of Yoshihito Nishioka and Dalibor Svrcina in round three.

The 27-year-old American has never gone past the fourth-round stage in Melbourne - his best run coming in 2021 - but this result will have done his confidence the world of good and who knows how far he can go.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, Jannik Sinner, Cameron Norrie and Felix Auger-Aliassime are also in the top half of the draw, so there are plenty of players that will be dreaming of at least reaching the final now.

Good news for Djokovic backers

Nadal's exit is also a positive for anyone that has backed Novak Djokovic to go all the way this year, with the Serbian in the bottom half of the draw and now assured in the knowledge that he can't face Nadal in the final.

The former world number one was in sublime form in his opener against Roberto Carballes Baena, winning 6-3 6-4 6-0, and the record-extending 10th title looks more than plausible at 8/11 To Win Outright.

Next up for Djokovic will be a clash against either Enzo Couacaud or Hugo Dellien Jr, while the highest seed he could face in round four is 14th seed Pablo Carreno Busta.

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