Rafael Nadal
Spain's Rafael Nadal receives treatment for his hip at the Brisbane International AFP / Patrick HAMILTON

On Sunday, tennis superstar Rafael Nadal made a heartbreaking announcement that all his fans had been dreading to hear. He officially pulled out of the 2024 Australian Open after confirming that he had picked up another injury while playing at the Brisbane International last week.

Nadal flew to Australia with the intention of returning to the professional tour for the 2024 season, and the Brisbane tournament was meant to be a warm-up event for the first Grand Slam of the year. Things looked positive even after he lost his first doubles match, which was evidently meant to ease him back into competitive form.

He managed to win two singles matches against Dominic Thiem and Jason Kubler convincingly before suffering a "micro tear on a muscle" in his quarter-final encounter against Australian player Jordan Thompson 7-5, 6-7 (6-8), 3-6.

The Spaniard won the first set and was ahead in the second before Thompson managed to save three match points to force a deciding set. As the third set progressed, it became clear that Nadal was in a considerable amount of pain and his performance visibly dropped. He had to take a medical timeout after experiencing discomfort on the upper part of his left thigh.

He eventually lost the match to Thompson and admitted that he felt "scared" about what the pain could mean. However, he said that he does not feel like it was at the same spot as his previous hip injury, and that he also did not feel like it was severe.

He flew to Melbourne over the weekend and underwent some tests, which eventually confirmed that the injury is minor but it is enough to force him to withdraw from the Australian Open.

The fairytale comeback after a year-long hiatus lasted for barely a week before he was forced to make the tough decision to head back home. It may be remembered that he lost in the second round of the Australian Open last year due to a hip injury that eventually led to a surgery that kept him out for the rest of the year.

He was aiming for a sensational comeback in Melbourne this year, but it was sadly not meant to be. In a social media post shared on Sunday, Nadal said: "During my last match in Brisbane I had a small problem on a muscle that as you know made me worried.

"Once I got to Melbourne I have had the chance to make an MRI and I have micro tear on a muscle, not in the same part where I had the injury and that's good news.

"Right now I am not ready to compete at the maximum level of five-set matches. I'm flying back to Spain to see my doctor, get some treatment and rest."

Back in October 2023, Australian Open organisers were thrilled to announce that Nadal had confirmed his appearance at the 2024 event. Fans were equally excited, with many making plans to catch a glimpse of what could be Nadal's final participation at the tournament.

Alas, even that won't happen and it remains to be seen if he will ever play in the Australian Open again. Following Nadal's announcement, the Australian Open social media accounts expressed their support and encouragement. A post on X read: "We will miss you in Melbourne, Rafa. Sending all our love and best wishes for a speedy recovery. See you on the court soon."

Nadal has previously shared that he isn't heading into 2024 expecting to win the tournaments that he will be joining. He said that he wanted to head out following the year-long break and stay healthy enough to be able to make a decision on his retirement on his own terms.

He said that he isn't in a hurry to get back to his best form, which is probably why he decided to head back to Spain before his muscular tear gets any worse. He remains optimistic that it is a minor concern and he can be back on court soon.

"Within the sad news for me for not being able to play in front of the amazing Melbourne crowds, this is not very bad news and we all remain positive with the evolution for the season.

"I really wanted to play here in Australia and I have had the chance to play a few matches that made me very happy and positive. Thanks all for the support and see you soon," he said.

Of course, it is no secret that he is aiming to be fit enough to play at the French Open, where he won 14 of his 22 Grand Slam titles. He last won the event in 2022, and if his injuries force him to finally call time on his career, it is clear that he will want to make that decision at Ronald Garros.