Australian Open 2022: Rafael Nadal's projected path to the final

Rafael Nadal practices at the Rod Laver Arena ahead of the 2022 Australian Open
Rafael Nadal practices at the Rod Laver Arena ahead of the 2022 Australian Open
Rudra Biswas

Rafael Nadal is gearing up for his 17th appearance at the Australian Open. The Spaniard will be vying for his first title in Melbourne since 2009.

Nadal returned to competitive action at the Melbourne Summer Set earlier this month, after missing the second half of the 2021 season due to injury. The Spaniard's return to pro tennis was successful as he clinched the title in Melbourne, his first ATP crown since last year's Rome Masters.

Nadal got plenty of matches under his belt at the tune-up event, helping him find his rhythm ahead of the first Major of the year. The Spaniard has been handed a rather tough draw at the Australian Open and will have to be at his best if he is to lay his hands on a record 21st Major.

On that note, let's take a look at Rafael Nadal's potential opponents at the Australian Open this year.

Rafael Nadal's 1st-round opponent - Marcos Giron

Rafael Nadal will open his 2022 Australian Open campaign against USA's Marcos Giron, who is ranked 66th in the world. Giron has made huge improvements to his game over the last year, winning 14 of his last 23 competitive matches on the main circuit.

Having said that, Giron does not really have the weapons to trouble the 34-year-old Spaniard. Nadal should be able to advance without too much fuss.

Rafael Nadal's likely 2nd-round opponent - Thanasi Kokkinakis

Rafael Nadal could face his first real test pretty early in the tournament, as he is projected to meet the in-form Thanasi Kokkinakis in the second round. Kokkinakis has had a successful start to his 2022 season, reaching the semifinals in Adelaide 1 and the quarterfinals in Adelaide 2 (at the time of writing).

The talented Aussie also enjoys playing in Melbourne and will have the backing of a vociferous home crowd.

Nadal won their only previous meeting, at the Australian Open in 2014.

Rafael Nadal's likely 3rd-round opponent - Karen Khachanov

If Rafael Nadal passes his second-round test, he will most likely face 28th seed Karen Khachanov for a place in the fourth round. Khachanov has lost all seven of his previous meetings with the Spaniard, but did push him to the limit on several occasions.

Khachanov, who won the silver medal at last year's Olympics, could be a tricky opponent on the medium-paced hardcourts in Melbourne.

Rafael Nadal's likely 4th-round opponent - Hubert Hurkacz / Aslan Karatsev

If Rafael Nadal makes it to the second week in Melbourne, he will likely face 10th seed Hubert Hurkacz or 2021 semifinalist Aslan Karatsev for a place in the last eight. Nadal has not faced either of the two players before.

Both Hurkacz and Karatsev proved their credentials on hardcourt last year. While Hurkacz won his maiden Masters 1000 title in Miami, Karatsev won two ATP titles on the surface and reached the last four in Melbourne on his Slam debut.

Rafael Nadal's likely quarterfinal opponent - Alexander Zverev

If Rafael Nadal successfully navigates his way into the quarterfinals, he will likely come up against 2021 ATP Finals winner Alexander Zverev.

Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev after their match at the 2019 ATP Finals
Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev after their match at the 2019 ATP Finals

Zverev comfortably beat Nadal during their last two hardcourt meetings, at the 2019 Paris Masters and the 2020 ATP Finals.

The German has completely turned his career around over the last couple of years. He produced a scintillating display to win last year's Tokyo Olympics after upstaging World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the semifinals. He also beat the Serb en route to the ATP Finals title.

Having said that, Zverev is yet to take down the big guns at a Major, and currently possesses an 11-match losing streak against players ranked in the top 10.

Rafael Nadal's likely semifinal opponent - Novak Djokovic

Nadal was comprehensively beaten by Djokovic at 2021 Roland Garros
Nadal was comprehensively beaten by Djokovic at 2021 Roland Garros

Nadal will most likely have to lock horns with nine-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic in the semifinals. The Spaniard trails Djokovic 28-30 in their head-to-head and lost their most recent encounter in last year's Roland Garros semifinals.

Nadal's record against Djokovic on hardcourt doesn't make for great reading; the Spaniard has lost the last 19 sets he has played against his arch-rival .

Rafael Nadal's likely opponent in the final - Daniil Medvedev / Stefanos Tsitsipas

If Rafael Nadal manages to make his sixth final in Melbourne, he will most likely face either 2021 US Open winner Daniil Medvedev or World No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Medvedev won last year's US Open by beating none other than Djokovic in the championship clash, while Tsitsipas reached his first Major final at Roland Garros, losing to the Serb.

Nadal leads Medvedev and Tsitsipas 3-1 and 5-1 respectively in their head-to-head meetings on hardcourt.

Given the draw, it doesn't seem likely that Nadal will get his hands on his second Australian Open title, but the Spaniard is arguably the greatest battler the sport has ever seen and can never be counted out.

Edited by Arvind Sriram
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