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  5. Australian Open 2022: Will Nadal end 13-year title drought at Rod Laver Arena

Australian Open 2022: Will Nadal end 13-year title drought at Rod Laver Arena

With Djokovic out of his way, the 34-year-old Spanish star has one headache less in his bid for a record 21st Grand Slam but is not getting a free shot at the title he hasn’t won since 2009.

India TV Sports Desk Written by: India TV Sports Desk
New Delhi Updated on: January 17, 2022 23:25 IST
rafael nadal
Image Source : CAMERON SPENCER/GETTY IMAGES

Rafael Nadal looks on during his first-round singles match against Marcos Giron during day one of the 2022 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on Monday.

Season’s customary opening Grand Slam, Australian Open, has already begun on a sour note with World No. 1 Novak Djokovic deported from the country over failure to justify his exemption from COVID-19 vaccination. The fiasco saw his visa being rejected twice by Australian authorities while Federal Court upheld the ruling on Sunday; confirming the nine-time champion’s departure.

Monday onwards, the focus quickly shifted at the Rod Laver Arena, where the only remaining former champion in the men’s singles draw, Rafael Nadal meant business.

The 34-year-old Spanish superstar had a cakewalk against USA’s World No. 66 Marcos Giron in straight sets 6-1, 6-4, 6-2. This was in line with his equally-comfortable winning run at the tune-up event Melbourne Summer Set (ATP 250 series).

The game against Giron saw Nadal turn bullish with his intent while continuing with a no-set-dropped run in Melbourne to four matches this year. 

However, lack of quality opponents in Melbourne and expectedly easier ties in the opening rounds may have painted a rosy picture of his historic 21st Grand Slam title claim and shadows the fact that he came to Australia at the beginning of the year with no tennis action in four months. The period was marred with a foot injury and a bout with COVID-19. 

While success has eluded Nadal at the Rod Laver Arena for the past 13 years -- including three final defeats -- it is worth pointing out that his confidence was seriously dented when Djokovic subdued the ‘Clay-court King’ at his bastion French Open last season.

But let’s not take anything away from Nadal as far as giving fans some memorable matches at the ‘Happy Slam’.

At the top of it is certainly his 2009 final victory against Roger Federer, whom he outlasted in a five-set epic that stretched 4 hours and 23 minutes. The win tasted sweeter because it came two days after the southpaw had to face an unlikely challenge in compatriot Fernando Verdasco, who played the match of his life in a marathon battle of five hours 14 minutes; longest in the Australian Open’s history at that time.

The first set alone took 75 minutes while the final score of 6-7 (4-7), 6-4, 7-6 (7-2), 6-7 (1-7), 6-4 themselves revealed how the two Spaniards fought for every inch on the night.

Some still may argue that it was the 2012 final that saw Nadal stretch his limits against Djokovic in the longest showdown in the history of all Grand Slams as the two rivals fought for 5 hours 53 minutes before the top seed Serbian reigned supreme 5–7, 6–4, 6–2, 6–7(5–7), 7–5. 

Those moments, however, will have little bearing on Nadal’s current performance as he will have to surpass a list of young guns, who over the years have turned into players they always promised to be.

The ageing Big 3 is very familiar with the likes of Daniil Medvedev, who just proved at the US Open months ago that he is here to walk the talk when he decimated Djokovic over straight sets.

Experts are still uncertain if Nadal will last that long as the draw has put him on a collision course with Olympic champion Alexander Zverev as early as the quarter-finals. 

In fact, quarters were the same stage where Nadal fell to Greek prodigy Stefanos Tsitsipas last year at this venue. The 23-year-old World No. 4 actually exacted revenge of his 2019 semi-final defeat in a neck-to-neck battle with the mighty Spaniard, who went down in a five-setter despite taking a 2-0 lead.

Saying that, Nadal fans will never let you forget that it’s one of the greatest of all time we are talking about who has 19 more Major titles than the rest of the 127 players competing at the event and knows how to win a five-setter even when he is not at his best.