Rafael Nadal is currently second favourite at 11/2 to win the Australian Open in a month’s time, behind world number one Novak Djokovic. But can he really win the tournament again and add to the solitary title he claimed as far back as 2009?
However, delve a little deeper, and his record in Australia is actually quite good, with three other final appearances to his name, most recently in 2017 when he was beaten in five sets by Roger Federer.
Federer comes into Melbourne as the defending champion, having won the crown again last year but, although still highly rated, there are those who think that his time at the very top of the game may be coming to an end at aged 37.
These include Nadal’s uncle and former coach Toni, who has cast doubt on the Swiss player adding any more Grand Slam titles to the 20 which he already holds.
If Federer’s challenge is to be discounted, then there is always the threat from the up and coming generation of young players like Alexander Zverev, Karen Kochanov and Borna Cilic.
All had impressive ends to the 2018 season with high profile wins and final appearances in Masters Events, but none of them has yet to make a statement performance at a Grand Slam event. Zverev may the best equipped to make the breakthrough this time round, but whether he yet has the trade-craft to successfully negotiate a two-week tournament has yet to be proven.
Djokovic is the tournament favourite, not just because he won the last two Grand Slams in 2018 back-to-back but because he has already go six Australian Open titles under his belt already.
The hard courts are ideally suited to his game because of his ability to return, and the strength of his ground shots. So, if Nadal is to win in Melbourne, he is either going to have to find a way to beat the Serb, or hope that he gets knocked out early.
Nadal missed the end of the 2018 season with an abdominal injury, but will be fully fit for the start of the new season.
What is not in doubt is his motivation, with compatriot and friend Juan Carlos Ferrero saying recently:
“I am seeing him competing two or three years more. If he is fit enough, his tennis is great. What impresses me more is how he is able to keep that strong motivation. The hardest point is to compete at this high-level motivation.”
Supporters of Nadal will, therefore, be hopeful going into Melbourne that their man can add to his haul of 17 Grand Slam titles.
The main impediment to home doing so comes in the form of the player who tops him in the world rankings – Novak Djokovic.
Get the latest Australian Open tips, predictions and odds here.