Analysing Rafael Nadal’s chances at the first Grand Slam of the year
Rafael Nadal will not be among the top favorites to lift the trophy at the Australian Open, which kicks off on Monday. Nadal can never be completely written off, but considering his record at the Australian Open and the rise of talented young players, it would take a monumental effort from the Spaniard to put himself in a position to lift the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup in a fortnight.
For starters, the Australian Open is Nadal’s least successful Grand Slam. In 16 appearances, the World No. 6 has gotten his hands on the trophy only once — way back in 2009.
Secondly, his draw this year is significantly harder than the other favorites’. He will likely have to beat four top-10 players if he wants to be the last man standing at Melbourne Park on January 30.
Barring his first-round match against Marcos Giron, none of the other matches are safe bets for the 20-time Grand Slam champion. His second-round opponent could be Thanasi Kokkinakis, who won his maiden ATP title in Adelaide on Saturday.
Kokkinakis’ career has been marred by injuries. His record at Grand Slams does not make for great reading, but he definitely has the tools to deal some damage, particularly in the early rounds.
But can he hang in there with the former World No. 1 for five sets if they meet in the second round? He might be able to take a set off Nadal, maybe even two. But the Spaniard should be able to make it through to the next round with his ego bruised but his dream of 21 Majors still intact.
The shot in the arm that a good scuffle with the 25-year-old could give could also help the World No. 6 find a way past his likely opponent in the third round, Karen Khachanov.
The Olympic silver medalist is good, but his play-style hasn’t troubled the Spaniard in the past. Khachanov is a hard-hitting and inconsistent baseliner who has trouble finishing points off. That is exactly the type of player Nadal eats for breakfast. The Spaniard leads their head-to-head 7-0 and has only ever dropped one set to the Russian.
A win against Khachanov would move Nadal into the fourth round and here is where things could get really tricky for the Spaniard.
4th round will be make-or-break for Rafael Nadal’s Australian Open campaign
Will Rafael Nadal be able to reach the second week in Melbourne?
The World No. 6 is projected to face either Hubert Hurkacz or Aslan Karatsev in the fourth round. Both players are full of energy and enjoy playing on hardcourt. They have both made strong starts to the 2022 season and will be hungry for more success.
Both Karatsev and Hurkacz are capable of pushing Nadal to the limit and just like the Spaniard, they are not afraid to run themselves into the ground trying to find a way to win.
The fourth round could ultimately be where Rafael Nadal meets his match at the Australian Open this year. He will undoubtedly be hungry to make a deep run, but will his body be able to cope with the demands of a Grand Slam so soon after his return?
In the unlikely event that Nadal advances to the quarterfinals, he is expected to face the in-form Alexander Zverev. The German is yet to register a big win in a best-of-five match but 2022 could be the year in which he comes into his own.
The two practiced together in the days leading up to the Australian Open and the stage is set for Zverev to finally register a win over a top-10 player in a Grand Slam.
If, however, Zverev falls before the quarterfinals and clears the way for Nadal to reach the last four, the Spaniard could come up against fellow 21st Major hopeful Novak Djokovic. Assuming, of course, the Serb is allowed to play in the Australian Open to begin with.
Even the most ardent of Nadal supporters won’t believe the Spaniard will be able to find a way past a pissed-off Djokovic, who will be keen to stick it to everyone in Australia following his visa debacle.
Nothing short of a miracle will see the Spaniard win that match. But if he does make the final, maybe by avoiding Djokovic altogether, nobody, not World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev or World No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas or even Rod Laver himself, will be able to stop the Spaniard lifting his second Melbourne crown.
If the Melbourne title is safely in his pocket, it would be safe to assume that the 2022 Roland Garros would be his too, for all intents and purposes. As well as the rest of the year.
Realistic prediction: Reaches the fourth round and falls in four sets.
Hopeful prediction: Reaches the semi-final and falls in a five-set marathon.
Wild prediction: Beats Novak Djokovic in the semifinals, goes on to win the Australian Open and uses that confidence to dominate the rest of the year.