Rafael Nadal
Spain's Rafael Nadal changes his shirt as he takes a break at the Brisbane International AFP / Patrick HAMILTON

Rafael Nadal's fairytale comeback after a year out of the professional tour has hit a speed bump. He suffered an injury setback in his quarter-final loss at the hands of Australian player Jordan Thompson at the Brisbane International on Friday. What's truly concerning is that he suffered the discomfort on the same hip where he underwent the surgery that kept him out of the entire 2023 season.

The match was tight from the beginning, with Nadal winning the first set at 7-5. He appeared to be on the way to closing out the match in the second set but failed to convert three match points. He ended up losing 7-5, 6-7 (6-8), 3-6 in a match that lasted almost three-and-a-half hours.

The issues became evident in the deciding set when the 37-year-old Spaniard called for a medical timeout when he was already 1-4 down. His performance dipped considerably from the first two sets to the last, making it clear that he was in a significant amount of pain.

He later admitted that the discomfort was coming from his left hip, the same general area where he had an injury that led to his loss at the second round of last year's Australian Open. He later underwent surgery in June 2023, which led to a lengthy recovery period.

Despite this, Nadal said that he is optimistic that it is simply a muscular issue. "I feel the muscle tired. It is not the same like last year at all because when it happened last year, I felt something drastic immediately. Here I didn't feel anything.

"The only problem is, because the place is the same, you are a little bit more scared than usual. In an ideal world, it is just the muscle supercharged after a few days of effort and a very tough match," he said, as quoted by the BBC.

The Australian Open is fast approaching

Everyone knows that the Brisbane International is generally considered to be a warm-up event leading up to the first Grand Slam of the year. Nadal had the same intention, and his Australian Open comeback is a highly anticipated event for everyone involved including the organisers, the spectators, as well as Nadal himself.

With now just a week to go before the event kicks off, there are naturally concerns over whether Nadal can still participate due to his injury setback. Weighing in on this issue, he admitted that there is a lot of uncertainty. "Honestly, I am not 100% sure of anything now. Then, the next couple of days, let's see how I feel. If I don't feel well, then we are going to do a test and we are going to check it," he said.

Nadal, a two-time Australian Open champion, has been offered a wildcard to participate in the event. During his injury hiatus, he dropped down to 672nd in the rankings, meaning he does not automatically qualify. Nevertheless, it is a no-brainer that the 22-time Grand Slam champion deserves an invite.

Everyone is looking forward to seeing Nadal back in action, and he has been vocal about his determination to stay fit enough to play in as many tournaments as possible this year. He said: "I have been taking a lot of precaution because I know, after a year, it is difficult for the body to be playing tournaments at the highest level. When things are becoming more difficult, you don't know how your body is going to react."

At Brisbane, he lost his first match back in the doubles event, but completed a convincing victory in his first-round singles match against Dominic Thiem. He looked much like his old self against Jason Kubler in his second match, but suffered the injury setback in the quarter-final against Thompson.

The match lasted over half an hour longer than his previous matches, something which could have contributed to muscle fatigue. Thompson worked hard to escape three match points in the second set, something which also forced Nadal to exert more effort than he has done so far in the event.

The entire tennis community is rallying behind Nadal, and it remains to be seen if he will be able to make the long-awaited return to Melbourne.