On Day 3, Rafael Nadal will take the court for his 69th singles match in the Australian Open. Now 32, Nadal has been playing in Melbourne since he was a teenager. Nadal debuted at this event in 2004, reached the final 4 times, and won the title in 2009. Over the course of these 14 entries (he missed 2006 and 2013), Nadal won just over 82% of his matches. He lost before the third round only once. Hidden amongst these staggering numbers is his record against competitors from the host country.
Despite the volume of tennis players from Australia, before the 2019 tournament started on Monday, Nadal had faced only four Aussies in his Australian Open career. That number will jump to six on Wednesday evening, maybe seven by the end of the week.
The Early Years
Strangely, there was a time when Nadal arrived on an Australian Open court as the lesser known and lower ranked player in the match. In his first two trips to Melbourne, teenager Nadal faced Australian star Leyton Hewitt. Each time, Hewitt was seeded while Nadal was not. Each time Nadal lost. In the third round of Nadal’s inaugural 2004 Aussie campaign, the 15th seeded Hewitt knocked out the unseeded lefty from Spain, dusting him off in straight sets.
The two met in a re-match a year later. This time, Nadal gave it a go, even taking a two sets to one lead in the fourth round match. Eventually, Hewitt prevailed in the deciding 5th set. That year, the third seeded Hewitt advanced to the final, eventually losing to Marit Safin.
Rafa Dominates the Hometown Boys
Since losing to Hewitt in 2005, in 5 subsequent matches, Nadal has not lost a set, let alone a match to an Australian on their soil. While the matchups are infrequent, Nadal took 13 consecutive sets against the boys from Down Under. In 2010, Nadal knocked out Peter Luczak in the first round. A year later, another Aussie, the same result; Bernard Tomic was dropped in straight sets.
In 2014, the hometown crowd saw two natives face Nadal. Tomic again in the first round, this time retiring after one set. Next up was then teenager and wild card entrant Thanasi Kokkinakis who advanced to the second round before being dispatched by Nadal.
Three Matches, Three Aussies?
Since then, players from the host country avoided Nadal for five years. That changed this week. Nadal faced a native in the opening round, faces another in Round 2 and has a potential 3rd round match with yet another Australian.
Nadal’s first round opponent, Aussie and wild card entry James Duckworth, gave way to Nadal on opening Monday. On Wednesday, Nadal will find world #47 Aussie Matthew Ebden across the net. Plugging along, Ebden has been able to win nearly $3 million in his pro career; respectable, but over $100 million shy of his opponent. Betting odds greatly favor Nadal. If Nadal holds form on Day 3, his potential 3rd round match is up and coming teenager Aussie Alex de Minaur.
Often the crowd favorite, Nadal may see a glimpse of the future in Round 3–a 19-year-old star on the rise, playing in his home country against a megastar. Crowds always love Nadal, but one would expect great support for young de Minaur at home. Wasn’t Nadal a 19 year old star on the rise once playing Leyton Hewitt? Nadal and the Aussies, the story goes on…
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