January 25, 2015
Rafael Nadal looks capable of matching Roger Federer’s amazing total of 17 Grand Slams – and he might even eclipse the great man.
There have been times in the last two years – even in the last week – when that statement sounded ridiculous.
But Rafa’s 7-5, 6-1, 6-4 defeat of Kevin Anderson shows that his fitness is improving with every match in Melbourne…Why shouldn’t he go all the way?
And if Nadal were to upset the favourite, Novak Djokovic and claim Australian Open glory, he closes on Federer by notching his 15th Slam.
We all know where the Grand Slam trail takes us next – Roland Garros. And no one bets against Rafa winning that one.
So it could take Rafa to 16 Slams as he prepares to turn 29. Just one behind Roger, who is seems unlikely to win another Slam as he approaches 34.
We talk about Federer as the greatest and rightly so. His elegance, balance and timing have always been exquisite.
But could we be talking about Nadal as the greatest of them all in two or three year’s time? It has to be a very real possibility. The Spaniard’s attempt to beat Roger’s record will keep us all on the edge of our seats for quite a while.
The scoreline shouldn’t conceal what a titanic battle that first set was. It could well have gone the way of Anderson, who had multiple chances to break at 5-5 and then serve for the set.
Nadal admitted: ‘I was very lucky to win the first set after I was 0-40 down at 5-5. But this is a very special win for me because I have played some of my best tennis matches here in Australia. It is very emotional for me.’
By the time he served for the match, Nadal could afford to laugh about being interrupted by the umpire, so that one of his water bottles could be placed upright instead of rolling around the court.
For a man who has become obsessive about making sure his water bottle labels face the front on court, this could have been a distraction. But he just smiled and closed out the match anyway – the sign of a man in control of his game.
Rafa admitted his bottle superstition is illogical:’It is one of those stupid things you do after a lot of tension over the years, it doesn’t work so it is stupid.’
But everything was in working order for Rafa in this match. There will be tougher challenges ahead, with Tomas Berdych next, but he must surely have Roger Federer’s wonderful achievement in his sights.
Maria Sharapova beat China’s Peng Shuai 6-3, 6-0 and looks in such imperious form that you have to wonder whether even the likes of Serena Williams can stop her this time.
Eugenie Bouchard waits in the quarter-final after the Canadian defeated Irina-Camelia Begu.
But no one has looked quite as good as Sharapova did against Peng Shuai.
The final stages in Melbourne are going to be absolutely fascinating!