The draw for the 2022 Australian Open has been set. Though Novak Djokovic will no longer be playing in Melbourne, there are a number of fierce competitors in with a chance of lifting the title. One man who faces an almighty draw regardless of Djokovic’s inclusion is Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard faces an uphill battle from the get-go, and it’ll be quite the test for the 2009 champion to see where he’s at physically.
Rafael Nadal Faces Tough Australian Open Draw
In context, it seems an almighty task for Nadal to make a great run here, let alone win the title. The second half of his 2021 was plagued by a lingering foot injury, forcing him out of much of the season. When he played at the Dubai exhibition, he lost both of his matches to Andy Murray and Denis Shapovalov, but remained positive about where he was.
He then, along with the majority of the players in Dubai, contracted Covid and was forced to isolate. Recovering from this would’ve put a large dent in his preparation for the first Slam of the year.
However, Nadal returned to action at the Melbourne Summer Set, and looked far more fresh than expected. He cruised to the title without dropping a set, which included a thrilling final with Maxime Cressy. This tournament will have done as much good as it could’ve done with regards to Nadal’s return to court.
Sadly for Rafael Nadal, it’s no walk in the park to get things underway. He meets Marcos Giron in Round One, and the American is coming off a fantastic year of tennis in 2021. Though ranked just 66 in the world, he possesses deadly weapons that allow him to dismantle many of the elite players on tour.
Giron has a very aggressive game style, built on a big serve and plenty of power off both wings. He stood out during his four set loss to Alexander Zverev in last year’s Australian Open with his gutsy tennis. Despite the loss, he caused the German a number of problems and was highly competitive throughout. So, we know he’s capable of mixing it with the best and that he can bring it in Melbourne.
However, Nadal should (realistically) come through this match relatively unscathed. Though Giron is powerful and talented, you need far more than just that to get through the Spaniard’s defences, and his aggressive defensive shots could well cause Giron discomfort throughout the match.
Round Two could well be an interesting occasion. Nadal is projected to meet Thanasi Kokkinakis, who is deservedly enjoying a wonderful return to fitness and form with his fantastic title run in Adelaide. The young Aussie is immensely talented and has plays a breath-taking brand of tennis.
When he’s hitting his spots, he’s a nightmare for anyone. Factoring in the immense crowd support he’ll receive, this could be quite the test for Nadal. He should still be too good for the young Aussie, and will be able to soak up the power and rise to the occasion when it matters.
It Only Gets Tougher
After a manageable but tricky first two rounds, the competition takes a big leap. The Spaniard is projected to meet Karen Khachanov in Round Three, which is a match-up that favors him on paper. He leads the head-to-head 7-0, and will be looking to continue this domination. However, it will still be a stern test. The Russian’s highly aggressive game with big serves and shots all over the court tends to reward him well, and with Nadal still finding his feet, this won’t be easy.
Nadal should beat the 25-year-old, but he’ll need to get the job done with relative ease to preserve energy. His Fourth Round projected opponent is Hubert Hurkacz. The Pole is currently ranked #10 in the world, and is starting to show why on a regular basis. He has a fantastic, metronomic serve and plays beautifully off the ground. He varies his aggression with patient defence, and is very comfortable at the net. If the match-up takes place, this will be Nadal’s toughest match so far.
Hurkacz’s big serving, effective groundstrokes, and great net play could well cause Nadal a lot of discomfort. They’ve yet to play each other on tour, so it would be a fascinating first encounter. This is probably the first match Nadal could actually lose, and if he doesn’t win comfortably, it may leave him without much gas in the tank.
It’s worth noting here that, as previously mentioned, these are only projected rankings. Khachanov and Hurkacz are indeed likely to reach the rounds in which they face Nadal, but have both been susceptible to early defeats in Grand Slams before. If they are to lose early, then this would be a huge advantage for Nadal should he make the quarterfinals.
The Final Eight
Though his first four matches look tough, it’s a brutal final following round that meets him. In the quarterfinals, he’s seeded to face Alexander Zverev.
With the official announcement of Djokovic’s deportation, Zverev and Medvedev are now the big favourites for the title. Zverev should reach the quarterfinals, but he’s been mentally week in Grand Slams on many occasions before and could be due an early exit. That said, his mental game has improved a lot, which has helped his serve greatly – and this shot has undoubtedly been the main factor of his recent success.
Nadal currently leads the head-to-head 6-3, but Zverev leads the hard court match-ups 2-1. The German has become very strong on this surface, and Nadal’s aging body restricts him from being quicker around the court. In his prime, he could easily handle powerful players on these courts as he was such a physical monster. However, he’s a fair way off this in 2022, and he’ll need to put in one of his best hard court performances for a while to have a chance of winning.
Projected next for Nadal’s semifinal is Matteo Berrettini, who will be quietly rejoicing at not having to face Djokovic in a fourth successive Grand Slam quarterfinal. Apart from Berrettini, this spot could also be filled by players such as Cameron Norrie and Carlos Alcaraz – it’s very open. This side of the semifinals is certainly favourable for Rafa.
It would be an almighty effort for Nadal to get to the final in truth. Daniil Medvedev looks set to reach his fourth Grand Slam final, and he’ll be a hard man for anyone to beat.
Can He Win the Tournament?
Looking at Nadal’s draw does little to inspire confidence in him winning this title. The 35-year-old will fight as hard as he always does, and will not go down easily. He’s definitely good enough, even in his current situation, to reach the quarterfinals here. Khachanov and Hurkacz are brutal consecutive matches but I certainly think he can take on the pair of them.
The hardest part will be coming through all these matches and then facing one of the in-form players out there. His fitness will be tested to the max, and he will have to out-play Zverev rather than let the German collapse like he has in the past.
Nadal will probably need a bit of luck here. If Hurkacz and Zverev both lose before they play him, then things will change. Nadal would then be in a far better position to make a run to the final, and all of a sudden this is a different conversation. If the draw opens up and the top seeds lose early, then Nadal could come out as the favorite. But, as it stands with the current projections, it is not entirely likely the 20-time Grand Slam champion will be collecting a 21st–but it’s not out of the question.
Main Photo from Getty.