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Rafael Nadal withdrew from the Australian Open with a hip muscle injury. His comeback is on hold

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Rafael Nadal’s comeback from hip surgery is on hold after he withdrew from the Australian Open with an injury a week before the start of the season’s first Grand Slam tournament.

The 22-time major champion said Sunday on social media that medical tests he took in Melbourne revealed a small tear in a hip muscle and he would fly home to Spain for treatment.

The 37-year-old Nadal has won the Australian Open twice — in 2009 and 2022 — and his absence will leave this year’s event without what had been expected to be one of its main story lines. It was a year ago at Melbourne Park that Nadal hurt his hip flexor during a second-round loss to Mackie McDonald, then missed the rest of the season.

Nadal had an operation in June and his return to the tour after nearly 12 months away came last week in Brisbane. After winning two matches, the left-hander took a medical timeout during the third set of a quarterfinal loss to Jordan Thompson on Friday.

“Hi all, during my last match in Brisbane I had a small problem on a muscle that as you know made me worried,” Nadal wrote Sunday. “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.”

The former No. 1-ranked player’s career has been marked by a series of injuries, including to his knees, left foot and left wrist, perhaps connected to his punishing style of play.

“A lot of things can be happening in a body like my body after a year without playing tennis,” he said.

The loss to Thompson was Nadal’s third match in four nights and lasted nearly 3 1/2 hours, following straight-set victories over Dominic Thiem and Jason Kubler.

Since arriving in Australia to begin the season, Nadal sounded like someone lowering expectations for what he might achieve during the tour’s swing through the country. He made clear that his focus was to be fit for the clay-court season and the French Open, which begins in May and where he has won a record 14 championships.

“I have worked very hard during the year for this comeback and as I always mentioned my goal is to be at my best level in 3 months,” he wrote Sunday.

“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,” Nadal said.

The Australian Open begins on Jan. 14 — the first time it is starting on a Sunday, instead of a Monday — and, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, top-ranked Novak Djokovic is favored to add to his record totals of 24 Grand Slam trophies and 10 titles at Melbourne Park.

Djokovic dealt with his own health issue recently, bothered by a sore right wrist during the United Cup in Australia last week.

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AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis

Article Topic Follows: ap-national-news

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