Rafael Nadal: 2022 Season in Review

Rafael Nadal in action ahead of the ATP Finals.

2022 will always be a landmark year in the glittering career of the 36-year-old Rafael Nadal. Prior to the start of the season, the Spaniard was the joint holder of the Grand Slam record with 20 Majors, the same as the respective tallies of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.

Rafael Nadal in 2022

A great start to the year:

Nadal made a great start to the season, winning the Melbourne Summer Set 1 to clinch the 89th ATP title of his career. He then had an unforgettable campaign at the Australian Open, where he beat the likes of Matteo Berrettini, Denis Shapovalov and Adrian Mannarino to reach the final. It was not easy sailing always as the Spaniard had to play a tie-break that lasted for almost half an hour against Mannarino in the scorching heat of Melbourne.

Nadal then won the title by erasing a two-set deficit against Daniil Medvedev to outlast the Russian, who is almost a decade younger than him. Nadal showed his ability to adapt by starting to hit his backhands with more power as the match progressed and also rushing the net more frequently to shorten the rallies. He thus held a record of winning 21 Grand Slam titles – more than any man in the history of tennis.

The Spaniard then won the Mexican Open without dropping a set, as the slow hard court in Mexico suited his playing style a lot. He thus extended his winning run to 15 matches, which was also the best start he ever had in his career.

Nadal then reached the final of the Indian Wells Masters by extending his winning streak to 20 matches, but lost to Taylor Fritz in the final. He also suffered a rib stress fracture in the process that forced him out for around six weeks.

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Winning the French Open again:

Nadal’s injury meant that he could not take part at the Monte Carlo Masters and made a return to the Madrid Open. He then lost to Carlos Alcaraz, the current World No. 1, in the quarterfinal. Nadal again faltered at the Italian Open, where he lost to Denis Shapovalov in the third round.

Speculations were rife when the Spaniard entered the fray at Roland Garros, his favorite hunting ground, with his injury becoming a major talking point. After a smooth ride in his first three matches, Nadal faced stiff competition in the fourth round, when Felix Auger-Aliassime forced him to play five gruelling sets, but the Spaniard prevailed in the end.

He then faced his old foe Djokovic in the quarterfinal, which was also the 59th clash between the two. Djokovic had won the match between the two the previous year and many considered him to be the favorite in a night match in Paris, as the heavier conditions at night were supposed to nullify Nadal’s top-spin to a great extent.

However, Nadal romped home in style by winning the match in four sets, with some of his forehand winners defying belief. He then faced another formidable opponent in the semifinal in the form of Alexander Zverev, the big German, and the latter exhibited some of the cleanest and fiercest ballstriking ever seen on a clay court to win the first set.

However, Nadal was not be bogged down and bounced back in style to win the next set by demonstrating fantastic defence and also forcing Zverev to come to the net frequently. It was a pity that Zverev had to retire following an ankle injury and Nadal went on to meet Casper Ruud of Norway in the final.

Nadal made short work of Ruud in the final to win his 14th French Open title – a record that is unlikely to be surpassed ever.

A modest end to the season:

Nadal then entered to play the Wimbledon, but tore an abdominal muscle during the tournament. As a result, he has to withdraw despite reaching the semifinal following his wins over the likes of Francisco Cerundolo and Lorenzo Sonego. Djokovic, meanwhile, won the Wimbledon title to close the gap on Nadal and also surpass Federer’s tally.

Nadal again took six weeks off after the Wimbledon and lost in the opening round of the Cincinnati Masters on his return. He then returned to the US Open after a three-year absence and lost to the hard-hitting Frances Tiafoe in the fourth round.

Nadal then played a doubles match at the Laver Cup, which also turned out to be the last professional match of Roger Federer, who partnered the Spaniard. They lost the match and then Nadal withdrew from the tournament.

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Nadal then lost his first two matches at the ATP Finals in Turin before winning his last match of the year against Ruud. After a rather insipid performance in the first two matches, Nadal served with a lot of venom and fired a lot of aces against Ruud. He thus ended the year as World No. 2, becoming the oldest year-end Top 2 player in the history of ATP rankings.

Way forward for the Spaniard:

Injuries have been a concern for Nadal of late, but one expects that he will be fully fit to defend his crown at the Australian Open in 2023. He might not play all the tournaments in the European clay swing to save himself for the French Open and one cannot rule out the possibility of an unimaginable 15th title for him on the red dirt of Paris.

However, with Nadal not possessing a particularly strong serve, there are usually very few easy points for the Spaniard in a match. He is not getting any younger and it remains to be seen as to how long his body is able to cope with the grind of professional tennis.

Moreover, Nadal’s favorite surface by far is clay, which is the most demanding one in terms of one’s physical fitness and stamina. Still, his rivalry with Djokovic should keep him motivated for at least one more year and the world will be fascinated to watch the end of the Grand Slam title race between the two.

Main photo from Getty.