Ninth seed Rafael Nadal has dropped down the rankings, by virtue of injuries and an inconsistent 2016. The former world number one looked back to his best during the clay court season, by winning titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, tournaments he had dominated in the past. Unfortunately, prior to his scheduled third round match with compatriot Marcel Granollers, the Spaniard was forced to withdraw from his beloved French Open, which left him in tears due to a career-threatening wrist injury. Nonetheless, in 2017, Nadal will be hoping to win another Grand Slam title for the first time in three years. Compatriot, Carlos Moya has joined his coaching team this season, which should give Nadal some renewed confidence.
Nadal will be hoping to avoid a first-round exit for the second consecutive year in Melbourne. He was defeated by his compatriot Fernando Verdasco in a five-set thriller last year. The Spaniard's first round opponent will be Florian Mayer. The German has struggled with injuries over the past couple of years, and he will provide a tough test for Nadal, and he has beaten the Spaniard in the past.
Mayer has spent his time on the sidelines, missing 13 months of professional tennis between March 2014 and April 2015 due to a hip injury. Unfortunately, at the US Open in 2015, Mayer suffered more injury woes due to a torn right adductor tendon. It should be noted that the 33-year's old best run at a Slam was at the Australian Open in 2014 when he reached the fourth round.
Nadal's results leading up to Melbourne
The 14-time Grand Slam champion participated at the exhibition, Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi, and the Spaniard recorded victories over Tomas Berdych, Milos Raonic and David Goffin in the final, retaining the title in the process, which would have given some confidence heading into the Australian Open.
Nadal's first competitive event in 2017 was at the Brisbane International, competing there for the first time in his career, as the former Australian Open champion usually opts to compete in Doha. The ninth seed began his campaign against Alexander Dolgopolov, and the Ukranian was victorious in their last two meetings. Nadal won 6-3, 6-3, and in an emphatic fashion, he thrashed Mischa Zverev, 6-1, 6-1. However, in the quarterfinals the reigning champion Milos Raonic recovered from a set down to defeat Nadal, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Mayer's results leading up to Melbourne
The world number 49 competed in Antwerp and Basel at the tail-end of the 2016 campaign, and he played a couple of Challenger events. However, the German is winless in 2017, losing his first-round match in Doha to Horacio Zeballos in three sets, and he lost to Paolo Lorenzi in three sets with both matches, requiring a final set tiebreak to decide the outcome.
Nadal and Mayer have met on two occasions on the ATP World Tour. The Spaniard leads 2-1 overall, as he defeated Mayer in a Futures event back in 2002. However, Mayer shocked Nadal in their first tour-level meeting in the third round at the Shanghai Masters in 2011, prevailing 7-6 (5), 6-3. However, the Spaniard wouldn't have to wait too long for his revenge by defeating Mayer on the clay courts at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome in 2012, 6-1, 7-5.
The Australian Open has been Nadal's least successful Slam as his solitary triumph was in 2009 but he did reach two further finals in 2012 and 2014 losing to Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka respectively. Nadal will need to serve well in this match, as a few double faults do tend to appear in the Spaniard's game at times. Mayer has a good serve and his unorthodox style of tennis, can cause the ninth seed some problems.
The world number 49 likes to use a slice in his game, and he is not hesitant by coming to the net to finish off points quickly, however, Nadal is clearly the better of the two players, and he should come through this match quite comfortably. The Spaniard should have no problems, returning Mayer's serve, and if Nadal's forehand is firing on all cylinders, he could make short work of Mayer.
Nadal will want to try to conserve a lot of energy as the ninth seed has a tough draw to through. Mayer's compatriot and 24th seed Alexander Zverev could provide a tough test in the third round, and a potential fourth round clash with sixth seed Gael Monfils. Raonic could await in the quarterfinals, and a blockbuster semifinal clash with Djokovic could be on the cards, and a possibly a final with world number one Andy Murray.
This is the third match scheduled in the Rod Laver Arena, following the conclusion of the women's singles first round match between Serena Williams and Belinda Bencic. The winner of this first round match will play a veteran, Mikhail Youzhny or Marcos Baghdatis in a tough second round match.
Prediction: Nadal in four sets