The 2018 Australian Open is set to begin in just a handful of days, and in the Men’s singles, there can be no doubt that one of the big favorites for the titles will be Rafael Nadal, the former world number one and 2009 champion.
A finalist at the tournament last year, Nadal had a stellar 2017 season, winning two Grand Slam titles and reclaiming the world number one ranking, though struggled with injury towards the end of the year and there are some doubts about his fitness heading into the first Grand Slam of the year; will the Spaniard be ready for a tilt at a 17th major title?
After an injury-troubled 2016 season, Nadal had one of the best seasons of his career in 2017, with the Spaniard winning six titles and rising to the world number one ranking for the first time since July 2014.
Starting the year ranked at ninth, Nadal reached the Australian Open final in his second tournament of the year, beating Grigor Dimitrov in the last four before falling to Roger Federer in a high-quality final. The Spaniard was also the runner-up in Acapulco and at the Miami Open, though unsurprisingly began to dominate during the clay court season: Nadal won consecutive titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, and Madrid, and despite a quarterfinal loss in Rome he cruised to the French Open title without dropping a set, beating Stan Wawrinka in the final.
The Spaniard suffered a fairly surprising exit to Gilles Muller at the fourth round at Wimbledon and did not make too much of an impact in either Montreal or Cincinnati. However, having risen back up to the world number one ranking, he was able to secure a third US Open title, beating Juan Martin del Potro in the semifinal before easing past Kevin Anderson in the final. Nadal captured his sixth title of the year at the China Open and then lost in the Shanghai final to Federer, though struggled with injury after that and withdrew midway through both the Paris Masters and ATP World Tour Finals.
Build-up to Melbourne
It is fair to say that Nadal has had a far from the ideal build-up to the first Grand Slam of the year, with the Spaniard still affected by injury issues.
The Spaniard was affected by a knee injury towards the end of the 2017 season, and was still struggling with that as he was forced to withdraw from an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi. Concerns then grew even further, after the Spaniard withdrew from the Brisbane International due to the same injury.
However, despite those concerns, Nadal arrived in Melbourne a few days ago and has stated that his knee has recovered well enough for him to play. The Spaniard lost in an exhibition match to Richard Gasquet on Tuesday, though will be in action once again on Wednesday when he plays in the Tie Break Tens; his opening match is against Lucas Pouille.
Best Australian Open run
Though he has been the runner-up three times since then, Nadal’s best run at the tournament came nine years ago, where he sealed a Career Grand Slam with his first and currently only Australian Open title.
The top seed, the Spaniard stormed through the first week, beating Christophe Rochus and Roko Karanusic in the first two rounds before defeating Tommy Haas in the third round, not dropping a set on the way. Nadal then eased past 13th seed Fernando Gonzales to reach the quarterfinals, where he was once again comfortable, beating sixth seed Gilles Simon to reach the semifinal without dropping a set.
Despite an easy road to the last four, Nadal was then tested in two classic matches to seal the title. He came up against compatriot and 14th seed Fernando Verdasco in the semifinal, prevailing 6-4 in the final set in what is considered by many to be one of the best Grand Slam matches of all time. Nadal came up against his great rival, Roger Federer, in the final, and once again prevailed in the fifth set to seal a historic triumph.
Though he has not won the title in nine years and has not played an official tournament this season, there can be no doubt that, as the world number one, Nadal is a huge contender to win the title in Melbourne. With a good draw and some strong performances early on, it would not be a surprise to see Nadal become the first man in the open era to win each Grand Slam tournament on two occasions. .