Australian Open 2014: Rafael Nadal up for double record Down Under
The Australian Open has not always brought Rafael Nadal good fortune, but the year’s opening Grand Slam tournament is set to provide him with his latest stepping stone on the route to sporting greatness. If Nadal beats Stanislas Wawrinka in today’s final – and the bookmakers have him as a red-hot favourite to do so – he will move into joint second place on the all-time list of male Grand Slam champions and become the first man in the Open era to win all four of the sport’s major titles twice.
When the 27-year-old Spaniard pulled out of this tournament 12 months ago – his last withdrawal during a seven-month lay-off with injury – there were those who doubted whether he would ever be successful at the highest level again. In the four subsequent Grand Slam competitions, however, he has been champion twice (in Paris and New York), suffered a shocking first-round loss at Wimbledon and now reached the final here. The Australian Open completes a full circle for Nadal, who returned to competition early in February last year.
In the days when Nadal was wrongly regarded as a clay-court specialist this was one of the tournaments considered beyond him. The world No 1 has twice had to miss the event through injury (2006 and 2013) and twice suffered physical problems which led to early exits (2010 and 2011), but today will still be his third Melbourne final following his victory over Roger Federer in 2009 and his defeat by Novak Djokovic in 2012. “I’ve had very emotional moments in the Rod Laver Arena in the past and especially this year because this is the Grand Slam that I really had more problems in my career,” Nadal said. “It’s very special to have the chance to be in the final here again.”
Victory today would see Nadal match Pete Sampras’s total of 14 Grand Slam singles titles, with only Federer ahead of them on the men’s all-time list with 17. Roy Emerson and Rod Laver are the only other players who have won all four Grand Slam titles twice, but neither did so exclusively in the Open era.
Wawrinka will be playing in his first Grand Slam final. The world No 8 has enjoyed the best 12 months of his career but in 12 matches against Nadal he has yet to win a set. “I’m playing my best tennis here and physically I’m ready,” he said. “I’m going to try everything.”
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