Australian Open 2020: Analysing Rafael Nadal's chances of winning his 20th Grand Slam in Melbourne
Perhaps the only Grand Slam that continues to elude the Spanish tennis giant is the one from the continent Down Under. Save for a lone win in the 2009 edition of the Australian Open, Rafael Nadal has always been having a near-miss experience at the finals at the Rod Laver Arena. But this has not deterred him from assuming the status of a tournament favourite, heading into the first Grand Slam of the season. This year will be crucial for the World No.1 player as he stands just one slam shy behind Roger Federer's record of 20.
After a phenomenal 2019 season, Rafa Nadal has already arrived in Australia and his sensational skills with the racket is causing ripples in the inaugral edition of the ATP Cup. Being played over three cities, the 10-day ATP Cup Championships reaches its conclusion on 12th January. Spain, helmed by World No.1 Rafael Nadal has already made it to the finals while World No. 2 Novak Djokovic has steered Serbia towards a head-on collision with the Spanish forces.
It has been a neat 2019 for Rafael Nadal as he has scooped up two Grand Slam titles and has hardly looked vulnerable on any particular suface. In fact, it has been a surreal year for Spaniard as he not only brought individual glory but also contributed towards Spain winning the Davis Cup title for the sixth time against first-time finalists, Canada. That was not all for the 33-year-old, as he even joined the likes of Djokovic and Federer and became the year-ending World No.1 for the fifth time in his career, after brushing aside a stiff competion in the rankings race from the Serb.
Although Nadal isn't someone who is consciously chasing down numbers but now with the prospect of Federer's 20-Grand Slam haul now within his clasping reach, this year will prove to be monumental for the Spaniard. With the tiff over who is the greatest among the two perpetually raging, if Nadal wins in Australia, nearly after a decade, it would be nothing short of a rare spectacle to witness.
Nursing an injury, Nadal had sat out the Brisbane International in 2019 and had come directly for the Australian Open, where he produced flattering form and stole the show on several occasions en route to making it to his fifth final at the Rod Laver Arena. What was more impressive was that, it became the first time that the Spaniard had advanced to the finals without having dropped a set in the Australian Open. Ironically enough, when Nadal locked horns with Novak Djokovic in the finale, he was defeated in straight sets, which was another first in the Rafael Nadal losses-in-the-finale history.
Nadal's first win of the season in 2019 had come on his favoured clay surface at the Rome Masters when he sought vengeance for the Australian Open finale defeat against Novak Djokovic. The 12-time French Open Champion dominated the Serb and claimed the Rome Masters title, giving the Serb a taste of his own medicine. Next in line, were the 2019 Wimbledon Championships where both Nadal and Federer set up a dream match against each other in the semi-finals. However, there was little to do against the 'King of Grass', as a vintage Federer ousted the Spaniard and booked himself a slot in the finals.
It was time for Nadal to shine again when he impressed at the Rogers Cup which he entered as the defending champion. Racing into the finals against Russian Daniil Medvedev, Nadal refused to yield a single set and successfully defended his title, a first instance of a title defence on a non-clay court surface. The highlight of the year was yet to come with the action beginning at Flushing Meadows from late August 2019.
At the 2019 US Open, Nadal won against a very in-form Daniil Medvedev in five exhaustive sets and claimed his second Grand Slam of the year, his 19th one overall. Riding on the high of this victory, Nadal also tied the knot with long-time girlfriend Maria Francisca Perello in October.
After the wedding, Nadal headed to the Paris Masters where he made it to the semi-finals before an untimely abdominal injury caused him to pull out. Thereafter, the Davis Cup victory for Team Spain and his performance at the ATP Finals was plurally enough to make him the oldest year-ending World No. 1 player.
There is no question that Nadal is a top contender for the first major of the season and given his domineering form at the ongoing ATP Cup, one can rest assured that Nadal is raring to have a go at the Rod Laver Arena. The point of worry for Nadal will be the younger crop of players, in the form of Stefanos Tsitsipas, Medvedev, Dominic Thiem, and Alexander Zverev who are a potent threat to the Big Three. But given his form, he should not be bothered too much. Once adjusted to the ways of the fast court, there is little that can stop the Spaniard from lunging towards the chance of acquiring a record-equalling 20th title, early into the tennis year.Modified 12 Jan 2020, 17:48 IST