Australian Open: Can Rafa get second time lucky?

Chaitan Papnai

With Christmas and New Year celebrations over, it’s now time for some serious business. The first Grand Slam of the year – Australian Open 2014 - is round the corner. The blue turf is ready to set the tone for the year, as from 13th January; the tennis carnival will take place at Melbourne Park, Down Under.

Unlike contemporary women’s tennis, where Serena Williams is the undisputed queen and the favourite to win the Major, in men’s category, the competition is quite stiff between the top ranked players.

At the moment, the world number one Rafael Nadal is probably the best bet to win the Australian Open. If Rafa manages to win this time around, it would be his second Australian Open title, which would take his overall tally to 14. Rafa has been performing exceptionally well since his dramatic comeback in 2013 after recovering from a knee injury. Last year, at the same time (just before the start of the Australian Open), Nadal officially withdrew his name due to some stomach virus from Australian Open and by the time the Major started, he was nursing his damaged knees. At that point, many armchair critics were of the view that his tennis career was on the verge of its end, but the Spaniard not only made an outstanding comeback, but also went on to win two major titles out of the three left in 2013 – French Open and US Open.

Look at the irony, the player who skipped the Major last time due to a career threatening knee injury, is not only the top ranked player at the moment, but also the strongest contender to claim the title. Nadal`s determination, hard work and most importantly, never say die attitude are the reasons behind his success. One can easily observe all these factors in his game as well.

If we go by fitness and form, then Andy Murray has just recovered from his back surgery and it might take him some time to achieve the fitness level required to win a Grand Slam. Roger Federer, arguably the greatest player of all time, is struggling with his form for quite some time now, and age has started taking its toll on his game. The other few names, who have certainly raised their games, are Juan Martin Del Potro, David Ferrer and Stanislas Wawrinka. But to beat the likes of Nadal, Nole and Murray, especially in the Majors, they still need to be at the top of their game and fitness. So, the two serious contenders to lift the first Slam of the year are Nadal and Djokovic, currently number one and two in ATP World Rankings, respectively.

The Serb already has four Australian Open titles under his belt, compared to Nadal, who lifted the trophy just once, way back in 2009. Though the stat is not in favour of the Spaniard, considering his form and fitness, it would be a difficult task for the Serb to retain the title and maintain his monopoly at Melbourne Park this time around. On top of it, Nadal must be high on confidence as he started this year on a winning note by defeating France`s Gael Monfils in the finals, to win the Qatar Open.

In last couple of years, the rivalry between Rafa and Nole has certainly been a talking point, and in 2014, it will probably reach the next level, as both are fit enough to give each other a run for their money.

So, it would be interesting to see whether Nole will continue his domination at Australian Open, or Nadal manages to justify his top billing, with a second Australian Open title.