Tennis News, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic Visa, Grand Slam Title Race, Analysis, Preview

Ironically, in the grand slam where he has suffered the most setbacks, Rafael Nadal is about to get his biggest breakthrough yet in his quest for immortality in tennis.

The Spaniard had a tie with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic for the most grand slam titles in men’s tennis, so he could very well enter the Australian Open with no one standing in his way.

Even if Djokovic were to avoid deportation, the sheer nature of his turbulent build-up leaves the nine-time champion with a whirlwind of questions to be answered both on and off the field.

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While Federer and Djokovic were thwarted for much of their careers by a superhuman Nadal at the French Open, the Australian Open, more than any opponent, was Nadal’s kryptonite.

Of his 20 singles grand slam titles, only one has come Down Under – a five-set win over Federer in 2009 that left the Swiss in tears at the trophy presentation.

From then on, the stars simply refused to realign for the Spaniard, with an alarming pattern set to unfold for pretty much the next decade.

Of the three times Nadal has retired from his storied grand slam career, two have been at the Australian Open.

In 2010, Nadal retired 0-3 in the third set against Andy Murray with a knee injury, while in 2018 he fell to Marin Cilic in the fifth set with a hip injury.

The tournament dubbed the ‘Happy Slam’ by many on the tour was anything but for Nadal – instead it was something of a Bermuda Triangle in an otherwise remarkably consistent career.

He may not have retired yet, but in 2011, his quest for a fourth straight major title was derailed by a hamstring complaint and the subsequent loss of compatriot David Ferrer – a player he had beaten in seven consecutive encounters and from only two more. would lose their after 17 clashes.

In 2013 he withdrew from the tournament with a stomach virus and a year later in the final he sustained a back injury in the warm-up against Stanislas Wawrinka – eventually losing in four sets to a player he went into the match with a 12. – 0 record against.

Nadal with tears in his eyes after the final of the Australian Open in 2014 for Stan Wawrinka (AAP Image/Narendra Shrestha)Source: AAP

All kinds of ridiculous streaks with which Nadal has tormented his rivals have fallen at the Australian Open.

In 2015, despite having a 17-game winning streak against Tomas Berdych, Nadal went on to face the great Czech in their quarterfinals, while a year later he was knocked out in the first round by Fernando Verdasco – just the second time in his career. He had gone winless in his 62 slam career (the other being his 2013 Wimbledon loss to Steve Darcis).

Even when firing on all cylinders, the Australian summer has refused to shine brightly on Nadal – in 2012 he dropped a break in the fifth set to go to the all-conquering Djokovic in a five-hour, 53-minute epic – it remains the longest grand slam final of all time.

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Five years later, with raging favorite Djokovic being knocked out in the second round by unseeded Denis Istomin, Nadal’s path to his second Australian Open title finally looked clear.

That year, however, also marked Federer’s final – his first at a major since his 2014 French Open win, where he too took advantage of the absence of a rival ‘Big Three’ member.

In a blast from the past, Federer and Nadal battled it out on the biggest tennis podium, with the former eventually winning in five sets to mark his first win over Nadal in a grand slam since the Wimbledon final a decade earlier.

It may be sheer bad luck, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that some sort of supernatural forces are at work to cruelly wipe out every run one of the game’s greatest players ever made at his least successful strike. to slap.

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Those troubles even followed him into the present decade; last year, Nadal fell back to fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas after two sets to love – this was only the second time Nadal had suffered such a defeat at the grand slam level.

Speaking after the loss to Tsitsipas, Nadal himself was typically defiant when asked if he was “cursed” at the Australian Open.

“That’s the sport. Sometimes it goes well and sometimes it gets worse. Unfortunately for me I’ve had more injuries in this tournament than others… that happens,” he said.

“I’m not unlucky at all for myself and I’m not complaining at all about my luck here in Australia. Everyone has what they deserve, tennis is not a fair sport and I have what I earn in my career.

“I probably had chances here in Australia, but I couldn’t convert them, so that’s all. I didn’t deserve more.

“We can find many excuses and reasons, but the reason is that I was not able to convert the opportunities that I have had in my career.”

Be that as it may, Nadal, Djokovic and Federer have sort of a symbiotic relationship with each other – if one falls, the other two get up to try and seize the opportunity.

That loss in 2017 was significant for Nadal. Even with Djokovic out of the way, Federer was there to strike.

Now Nadal faces the very real prospect of entering the Australian Open without one of his two biggest rivals in the draw for the first time in what will be his 17th bid for the title.

It would be fitting for Nadal to overcome his biggest Grand Slam hurdle to break the Grand Slam stalemate with his two biggest rivals – then aim to go two clear rounds at the French Open.

“Yes, there is the storyline of 21 (grand slams for Djokovic), but Rafa is also in that storyline,” tennis coach and broadcaster Roger Rasheed told foxsports.com.au.

“He can turn 21 and then become a favorite at the French Open and before you know it he might be two clear.

Nadal is entering this year’s event after a Covid-19 diagnosis, but is still in winning form after triumphing in a lead-in event in Melbourne, although he doesn’t have to face a seeded player all the time.

Nadal triumphed at the Melbourne Summer Set tournament (Photo by Mike FREY / AFP)Source: AFP

Despite the rough start to his 2022, however, Rasheed believes Nadal’s early success on the track was indicative of his mentality.

“Rafa normally doesn’t show up for majors if he doesn’t feel like he’s a second week competitor. It’s not about ‘I just start the year and get a few games under my belt’, this is about someone who only really watches tournaments when he thinks he can win them,” he said.

“He doesn’t necessarily have to be in his top position, but he’s in a zone where he feels like he’s really capable of getting through it.

“Yes, it’s harder, yes there are more people at the dinner table now who feel like they can get over the top, but when you’ve got that much experience and you’re such a competitor and he’s in the climate and he’s like he goes into the second week, he becomes extremely hard to beat.”

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