Logically, there’s no reason why Nadal shouldn’t be as successful at the Australian Open as at the US Open and, theoretically, his game ought to be slightly more suited to the bouncier Melbourne surface (albeit that has quickened up in recent years) than Wimbledon.
Mind you, Nadal’s record here is hardly shabby, given he’s been runner-up four times, unfortunate to run into flaming-hot Djokovic twice (losing a six hour-plus game of Survivor in 2012) and Federer in his astonishing renaissance of 2017. The tennis Gods have not been kind to him in Melbourne.
After dismissing Bolivian Hugo Dellien 6-2, 6-3, 6-0 in a toil of slightly over two hours on Rod Laver Arena, Nadal said he did not know why he’d won here just once, although he outlined the losses in those finals and alluded to the reality that injuries have felled him on a couple of occasions, including in the 2014 finals loss to Stan Wawrinka, when he succumbed to a back injury; two years ago, he retired in the fifth set of a quarter-final against Marin Cilic following a hip issue.
Nadal noted he’d been broken twice in five-set defeats here in the final.
‘‘Another time I have been injured in a final, of course, against a great opponent [Wawrinka]. At that time against an opponent that in that moment I have been like 14-0 against him on head to head. I had problem on my luck in the final.’’
He added that he was hurt in the Cilic loss and ‘‘went through a couple of things, more than in New York. ‘‘But I don’t know,’’ he said. ‘‘Maybe the conditions are better for me in New York than here.’’
Nadal will equal Federer with 20 majors should he hoist the trophy on Sunday week, and would be short odds to overtake his 38-year-old rival at Roland Garros.
But while he’d like to get to 21, Nadal said he cared less about the number accumulated than the enjoyment of playing.
‘‘So I don’t care about 20 or 15 or 16, I just care about try to keep going, keep enjoying my tennis career. Is not like 20 is the number I need to reach. If I reach 20, fantastic. If I reach 21, better. If I reach 19, super happy about all the things that I did. I am very satisfied about my tennis career because I give it all most of the time.’’
He did not think that, by achieving 21 majors ‘‘I’m going to be happier than if I am 19 in 10 years’’.
Whereas Nadal has been battered on some occasions upon arrival in Melbourne – and the season’s toll on his body has been evident late in the tournament – he appears well-conditioned this year, having tuned up in the ATP Cup in Melbourne and prior to that in (Spain’s winning) Davis Cup late last year.
Nadal broke the Bolivian eight times and was supreme both in the short and longer points – and there were only 20 rallies of longer than eight shots, which confirms that Nadal, at 33, has an aggressive gear that might be less taxing on his body here in Melbourne, where, as the No.1 seed, he avoids the unpleasant possibility of a semi-final against either Djokovic or Federer, albeit the challenges might – finally – come from younger men.
Jake Niall is a Walkley award-winning sports journalist and chief AFL writer for The Age.