The draws for the 2022 Australian Open are out, and Rafael Nadal has one of the hardest projected paths to the title. If the Spaniard wants to win his 21st Grand Slam at Melbourne Park, he will most likely have to beat four top 10 players.
But that isn't impossible and has been accomplished previously. In fact, Nadal has to look no further than his close friend and arch-rival Roger Federer for inspiration.
A knee surgery and the subsequent recovery process forced Federer to skip a good chunk of the 2016 season, including Roland Garros and the US Open. In January 2017, his ranking slipped all the way down to World No. 17, which was his lowest in 15 years.
Seeded 17th at the 2017 Australian Open, Federer was stacked in a section of the draw stacked with top players. As early as the third round, the former World No. 1 had to face World No. 10 Tomas Berdych.
Heading into the match, he had a five-match winning streak against the Czech and a positive head-to-head record of 16-6. The match proved to be a mere formality for the Swiss, as he blitzed his way through Berdych in just 90 minutes to notch up a 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 win.
In the fourth round, Federer came up against World No. 5 Kei Nishikori. It was the pair's first meeting in a Grand Slam and the Swiss held a 4-2 lead in their head-to-head. The Japanese proved to be a far tougher opponent than Berdych, winning the first set in a tie-break.
The Swiss took the second and third sets comfortably but Nishikori broke the former World No. 1's serve in the fourth to take it to the final set. In the end, Federer needed three hours and 23 minutes to outlast the Japanese 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 and progress to the quarters.
The quarterfinal was against Alexander Zverev's elder brother, Mischa Zverev, who surprised 19th seed John Isner in the second round. Zverev had also defeated former World No. 1 Andy Murray in the fourth round.
But Federer recorded a routine straight-sets victory and reached the last-four, where he was pitted against World No. 4 Stan Wawrinka.
Roger Federer faced Stan Wawrinka in the semifinal and Rafael Nadal in the final
Wawrinka came into the tournament having just won the 2016 US Open and was a heavy favorite on the hardcourts of Melbourne. He sent Jo-Wilfried Tsonga packing in his quarterfinal fixture in emphatic fashion to underline his credentials as a potential contender.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion took the first two sets of the all-Swiss semifinal, but Wawrinka clawed his way back into the contest by taking the next two sets. Federer ultimately prevailed in the final set to beat his third top 10 opponent of the tournament 7-5, 6-3, 1-6, 4-6, 6-3. The match lasted just 19 minutes fewer than his marathon win against Nishikori.
The other semifinal between Rafael Nadal and Grigor Dimitrov took place later, and the Spaniard won a marathon five-setter to set up a repeat of the 2009 final.
The final was once again a five-set affair, widely regarded as one of the greatest matches to take place at the Australian Open.
The Swiss and Spaniard exchanged sets in a see-saw battle that lasted three hours and 38 minutes. Federer took the first and third sets while Nadal took the second and fourth sets.
With everything to play for in the final set, Nadal broke Federer early on to take a 3-1 lead. But the 17th seed roared his way back to win five consecutive games and take the set, match and championship 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.
By sheer happenstance, the match that brought the 40-year-old his 18th Grand Slam title turned out to be his 100th match at the Australian Open.
It was also the first time in nearly 35 years a player had won a Grand Slam by beating four Top-10 players along the way. Prior to the Swiss, Mats Wilander accomplished the feat at the 1982 Roland Garros.
Also Checkout : Rafael Nadal vs Roger Federer Head to Head Stats