Rafael Nadal may well have already played his final match at an Australian Open after confirming he will miss the opening Grand Slam of the year in Melbourne due to injury.
The 22-time Grand Slam winner injured his hip during his quarter-final defeat to Jordan Thompson at the Brisbane International on Friday and scans have now revealed a micro muscle tear.
Although not as serious as the injury that ruled him out for almost the entire 2023 season, Nadal will be forced to sit out the Australian Open and, having previously indicated that 2024 could be his final year on the ATP Tour, he may have already made his last appearance at the Melbourne slam.
This year's Australian Open is due to get underway on Sunday 14th January.
Nadal endured what he described as "one of the toughest years" of his illustrious career during 2023, as after limping to a second-round defeat against Mackenzie McDonald at last season's Australian Open, he proceeded to miss the rest of the campaign with a hip flexor injury that ultimately required surgery.
After going 349 days without playing a singles match on the ATP Tour, Nadal returned to action at this year's Brisbane International and appeared to be in good nick as he recorded routine wins over Dominic Thiem and Jason Kubler.
However, after taking the first set of his quarter-final clash with home favourite Thompson, Nadal picked up another injury to the hip area and went on to lose the match.
There were initial fears that the Spaniard had suffered a recurrence of the same injury, but scans have now revealed the problem is in a different area, something Nadal has described as being "good news" although he is "not ready to compete at the maximum level".
Nadal has not put an exact timeframe on when he hopes to return from his latest injury setback, but he will want to be firing on all cylinders by the time the French Open comes around in May.
The 37-year-old missed the Paris slam for the first time in 19 years last season, but he is of course known as the 'King of Clay' having won 14 of his 22 Grand Slam titles at the French Open, lifting nine of those over the course of 10 tournaments between 2005 and 2014.
After being forced to sit out the 2023 French Open, Nadal revealed that 2024 would "probably" be his final year as a professional, meaning he could have already made his final Australian Open appearance.
Nadal's absence this year already means this will be the first time since 1999 that neither he nor long-term rival Roger Federer have featured at the Melbourne showpiece - the latter having retired from playing in 2022.
A two-time winner of the Australian Open, triumphing in 2009 and 2022, Nadal's absence will be felt this year, although whether he could have sustained a meaningful challenge for the title given his injury troubles may have been unlikely.
However, Nadal's absence will open the door for Novak Djokovic to extend his lead over the Spaniard at the top of the all-time list of Grand Slam men's singles winners.
Prior to last year's Australian Open, Nadal was leading the way on 22 Grand Slam successes to Djokovic's 21, but the Serbian won three of the big-four events in 2023 to move to the top of the list.
Djokovic is 11/10 to land Grand Slam title number 25 and his 11th Australian Open crown in Melbourne this year, although Nadal's compatriot Carlos Alcaraz could prove to be his biggest threat, as the reigning Wimbledon champion is 10/3 to go all the way.
Any odds displayed were correct at the time of writing and are subject to fluctuation.