Nadal pulling out of a grand slam generally means a huge sigh of relief for his opponents. They know they may play some tough matches, some against quality players, some against the unseeded, but they have already managed to avoid the toughest one – the match against Nadal.
Despite having won just one of his 11 Grand Slam titles at the Melbourne Park, Nadal’s absence was something which all of us felt during this year’s Australian Open. In one of the most one-sided semi-finals we would ever see, Djokovic rushed past David Ferrer with ease. The crowd was left disappointed as we expected a much better show in the semi-final of the first Grand Slam of the year. While Nadal’s absence was felt throughout the tournament what we terribly missed was his approach towards the game.
Nadal is one player who would put up a fight as if every point was the championship point. It is not that most of the players don’t do that. But sometimes, out of fatigue, players don’t stretch for shots. Nadal would never do that. He would do anything but to gift a point to his opponent.
And why should he? The Spaniard has been training rigorously since his childhood days while his other friends were busy partying around. His coach and Uncle Tony Nadal had instilled a sense of discipline in him when he started training him.
I sometimes wonder if Federer would have retired a couple of years ago with 20/22 Grand Slam titles to his name if Nadal weren’t there. But he couldn’t as his era was later overshadowed by the Spaniard, who became the favourite among the tennis fans within a few years of his debut. With Nadal around, Federer has always felt the need to keep playing quality tennis. Nadal was someone who made players like Federer feel that there was a lot of competitive tennis left to be played. And thus tennis owes a lot to Rafael Nadal.
In the last few years, a talented player like Andy Murray reached the semi-final and the final of several grand slams, but yet he couldn’t win a major. The 25-year-old Spaniard had a major role to play in that. Murray would do all the hard work, overcome all the barriers, only to be ousted by Rafa towards the end. Ever since Nadal started pulling out of tournaments due to injury, Murray has shown significant improvement. Nadal’s injury has proved to be a turning point of Murray’s career. It would be great fun to see a rejuvenated Murray play against Nadal when he makes a comeback.
Last year’s Australian Open final lasted for 354 minutes. We expected a similar kind of contest in Sunday’s final. While Murray looked the better of the two players initially, it was an altogether different story after the second tie breaker. The Scot made a blunder by giving Djokovic some breathing space. While the first two sets ended in 2 hours and 13 minutes, Novak took just another one and a half hours to grab his piece of history.
Djokovic’s reaction after last year’s final was indicative of how taxing the match had been. This time it was subtle, no shirt ripping, no record-setting epic but still a fantastic effort. But when the Serb looks back at his fourth Australian trophy, the 25-year-old would probably say to himself, “This one wasn’t that tough. Nadal wasn’t there.”