What a champion Rafael Nadal is.
The 22-time Grand Slam winner wound back the clock in 2022, claiming the Australian Open and French Open after injury struggles the previous two years.
Nadal, 36, will go into this year’s Australian Open as top seed after the injury withdrawal of world No.1 Carlos Alcaraz.
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But recent form says the superstar Spaniard looks to be only an outside shot to win the first Grand Slam of the year.
All good things must come to an end.
Nadal has been written off before but this form slump is serious – he has lost six of his past seven matches.
Starting with a US Open exit to eventual semi-finalist Frances Tiafoe, Nadal has also lost to Tommy Paul, Taylor Fritz, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Cameron Norrie and Alex de Minaur.
The only match he has won since Flushing Meadows is a dead rubber against world No.3 Casper Ruud at the ATP finals.
Admittedly, Nadal’s defeats have been against quality opponents, but he is going to have to beat several good players to go deep in the Australian Open.
He will be helped by his No.1 seeding through the early stages, but the tough match-ups will eventually come.
Nadal’s struggling form has intensified talk of possible retirement – a thought he angrily dismissed publicly.
“So, you are very, very interested in my retirement. I mean, that, for the moment, is not the case,” Nadal said at the United Cup.
“When this day arrives, I’m gonna let you know guys. Don’t keep going with the retirement (questions) because I’m going to keep playing tennis.
“I don’t need to keep playing for no one reason. The only reason that I make sense to keep playing if I really enjoy what I do, and I really feel it.”
Nadal has shown he is capable of the superhuman – his comeback from two-sets-to-love down against Daniil Medvedev in last year’s Australian Open is a case in point.
However, age or injuries eventually claim even the greatest champions – and Nadal is no different.
The end is near and it could very well be on Nadal’s doorstep.