There were moments after the late heartbreak of the 2017 Australian Open final against Roger Federer when I wondered how much more Rafael Nadal could take. That isn’t to say the sport has been unkind to him, (the Mallorcan dynamo captured the world’s attention as a 19 year old sensation in the French Open and has pretty much had it ever since) but rather to illustrate the failings he has suffered over the last few years.
To anyone following the sport since he emerged, it has constantly and incessantly been said that he would have a shorter career than his peers. The exertion he was putting his body through had to take a toll on him had some point, and therefore there have been several points in the last few years that people have wondered if the end was near.
Cut to the first grand slam of the year, and we end up seeing what is turning out to be only the first chapter of the swansong of not only Nadal but also Federer as they battled each other in a memorable final. To lose that match must have been painful, especially after overcoming the odds to reach there in the first place, and even I, one of the most ardent fans that you would find questioned if he would be able to summon his otherwise indefatigable mental strength once again for the rest of the tour. The answer, much to my delight was a resounding yes.
If Nadal’s demolition of the draw in the French Open wasn’t enough, he backed it up with wins in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid and good performances in other tournaments that showed he was still ready to battle. He’s shown he still has the hunger and the drive, and critically with the help of Carlos Moya is now ready to change up his game to stay competitive.
Nadal’s Australian Open saw him with an improved serve, and also the insight to change gameplans in the middle of the tournament when things weren’t going his way. Nadal lost the first set in 3 matches in the final grand slam of the year, including in the semi-final against Del Potro but had the presence of mind to identify where he was going wrong.
This alongwith his renewed mental strength and fitness, will be his biggest asset going forward and after the early obituaries of both his and Federer’s careers written after last season, it’ll be tremendously exciting to see them compete with Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and the rest of the challengers next year.
For the time being, Nadal can look back on a spectacular year in which he reached three Grand Slam finals and won two of them. Instead of this success having quelled his appetite though, I only expect it to be have been fuelled further.
Picture credit: www.newdaily.com.au