Rafael Nadal’s future: Will he return to Australian Open or retire after French Open?

Rafael Nadal leaves the court

Rafael Nadal may well have played his last match at the Australian Open as he appeared “to say goodbye” after his second-round loss but it is unlikely that he will retire after the French Open, according to Alex Corretja.

The 22-time Grand Slam winner’s defence of his title at Melbourne Park came to a shuddering halt on Tuesday as he was upset by Mackenzie McDonald in three sets.

American McDonald played a brilliant match and deserved his 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 victory on Rod Laver Arena, but Nadal struggled with a hip injury and played the final set at walking pace.

The Spaniard took a medical timeout midway during the second set and there were emotional scenes as his wife Mery was seen wiping away tears while his coach Carlos Moya looked disconsolate.

After the match Nadal waved goodbye to spectators and former world No 2 and tennis pundit Corretja feels “this is the end in Australia” for the tennis great.

“It made me feel a little bit weird when he went into the middle of the court to say goodbye… the way he did it, it made me feel like maybe he’s thinking ‘OK, this is the end in Australia’,” he told Eurosport.

“I think the whole Nadal team was there to also show respect to Rafa because I think he deserved it. He tried until the end even if he felt that he had no chance to win the match. So that’s why I think they paid tribute to him.”

Fellow pundit Laura Robson also felt the standing ovation from his team indicated that he may well have been waving goodbye to Australia.

“Rafa’s team stayed until the very end,” she said. “They clapped him off the court as he was walking back through the tunnel. Does that happen every time? I’m not totally sure that it does.”

There had been debate about Nadal’s retirement date with Alexander Zverev suggesting he will retire after this year’s French Open, although that has been refuted by the Spaniard.

READ MORE: Rafael Nadal and the North American curse: From Taylor Fritz to Felix Auger-Aliassime and Mackenzie McDonald

Corretja also feels the 36-year-old hasn’t decided yet when he will hang up his playing racket for good.

“We know that Rafa is going to try until the end of his career, whatever he feels,” he said.

“So I don’t necessarily feel that he’s going to retire after Roland-Garros, he’s going to go day-by-day. He actually said on Eurosport in Spain something like ‘I’m going to continue until I see that I’m not going to be able to continue playing’.

“So I don’t think it’s going to be the end of Rafa after Roland-Garros. Definitely when he’s got these injuries it is [a little] step back in his mind and he also needs to recover. But if it’s a short one I think it will give him like the hope to get ready again to hopefully have another chance to win another major – which might make a big difference on his career or not.

“Because at the end, when you’ve been winning so much, I don’t think we need to count on whether he wins more majors or not.

“Rafa Nadal is going to last forever, whatever he does on his future.”

READ MOREUniversal Tennis serve up realistic ratings system – with Novak Djokovic top