The first Grand Slam of 2017 is heating up. The last four remaining in the Australian Open are Roger Federer, Grigor Dimitrov, and Rafael Nadal. An interesting development that could arise at the conclusion of this tournament is the race for the All-time Grand Slam record that Roger Federer currently holds at 17 slams.
Over the last two years, Rafael Nadal has struggled with his confidence, his form, his ability to close out important tennis matches, which has left many tennis aficionados wondering whether we will ever see the very best from the fourteen-time Grand Slam champion ever again. The Spaniard is slowly aiming to silence his critics and is doing so on the tennis court as he prepares for his first Grand Slam semi-final since Roland Garros 2014, in which he won.
If Rafael Nadal was to win the 2017 Australian Open it would put him just two Grand Slams away from the Swiss star Federer, which would add extra interest to the second Grand Slam of the year at Roland Garros–a tournament in which Nadal has experienced unrivaled success for over a decade. It is easy to forget that the Australian Open is a tournament that the Spaniard has only ever won on one occasion, so if he was to claim his second title here, would that immediately reinforce Nadal as the favorite for Roland Garros? It is one of many great talking points for the coming months, that’s for certain.
Clearly, Nadal has found some of the form that has been missing for over two years. We are slowly seeing some short term results under the guidance of his new coach Carlos Moya, but can the 30-year-old sustain this level for a whole season like Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have been doing for a number of years now? I think only Nadal can really answer this question.
For Nadal to muster up a truly great season where he performs well at all of the Majors, he will have to have full confidence in his forehand. That one single shot will determine whether we will see another comeback from the Spaniard and whether he will test Federer’s record of 17 Grand Slams, which is something that looked unlikely until this fortnight in Melbourne. During the two years away from the higher echelons of the game, Nadal’s forehand has dropped short and central during his matches and it has become less potent, which is why so many shock upsets have occurred in matches involving Nadal. The moment the Spaniard started looking for the riskier forehand down the line shot over the higher part of the net, it opened up more options for him to utilize. On top of that it also gives his opponent an extra tactic to worry about, whereas during the period of 2015-16, he was becoming way too predictable with his forehand cross-court patterns. A confident Nadal that takes risks on the tennis court is virtually unplayable at times, which is something he will need to reinforce on a regular basis if he is to contest Federer’s 17 Grand Slam title haul as it stands.
On top of that, you also have to ask the question whether Roger Federer will add to that tally of 17 majors. He still remains competitive at the age of 35. He has made the semifinals or better in his last five Majors, which suggests that he still is not far away from claiming another huge triumph. One would suggest that his best possible chance of winning a major is at Wimbledon, because of the quick-fire tennis that Federer can play in those conditions, which allows him to get the most out of his precise and accurate serve.
If Nadal can upset the odds and silence the critics to win the 2017 Australian Open it really does open the conversation for the next few months coming into Roland Garros. Can Nadal really do it?