After departing from the Australian Open in pain a month ago, Rafael Nadal is all set to resume competitive play when the Abierto Mexicano Telcel -- an ATP World Tour 500 tournament -- begins in Acapulco, Mexico on February 26. It was a hip injury that denied him a chance to continue playing the quarter-finals against Marin Cilic at the season’s opening Major and the Spaniard had to retire after losing the first couple of games in the fifth set.
Four weeks on, Nadal will be looking to triumph at the Mexican Open for the third time, having tasted glory in 2005 and 2013. Even last year he made it to the final when the event was staged on hardcourts for the first time after switching from clay.
This will be the southpaw’s first tournament since handing over the No. 1 spot to biggest nemesis, Roger Federer. With the Swiss maestro defending back-to-back ATP Masters 1000 titles at Indian Wells and Miami next month, the 16-time Grand Slam champion could be back to the numero uno ranking again if Federer slips in the North American swing. But for that to happen, Nadal himself has to put in a solid show in this beach resort town.
Perhaps that’s the motivation that the Spaniard needs next week for his path to a third title in Acapulco looks quite danger-riddled.
The top seed starts off his campaign against a very familiar player -- compatriot Feliciano Lopez, who is currently ranked 37th. After a possible second round meeting with Australian wildcard Thanasi Kokkinakis, the road gets tougher for the World No. 2 with quite a few big servers lined up.
2017 final rematch on the cards
Seventh seed and defending champion Sam Querrey waits in the quarter-final in a rematch of the 2017 title showdown in which the American put up a fabulous performance to get the better of Nadal in straight sets. Querrey will be arriving with a lot of momentum, having made it to the final of the New York Open just last week.
In the semi-finals, Rafa’s likely opponent is the New York Open winner Kevin Anderson, who is the fifth seed at this tournament, or the Australian Open semi-finalist Hyeon Chung. The Korean too won’t be an easy customer, especially after reaching the quarter-finals of the Delray Beach Open this week.
In the final, Rafa could meet either of second seed Alexander Zverev or third seed Dominic Thiem or sixth seed Juan Martin del Potro. Thiem has been the most in-form player out of the three and has already clinched a title at Buenos Aires and followed it up with a run to the quarter-finals in Rio de Janeiro.
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If Nadal can overcome the possible roadblocks, he will be rewarded with a record-tying 20th ATP 500 title to match Federer’s haul.