Top seed Rafael Nadal will begin his bid for a second Australian Open title with an opening round match against 21-year-old Australian Bernard Tomic. They have met only once before, at the 2011 Australian Open, where Rafa defeated Tomic in straight sets to bring the head-to-head record to 1-0.
Nadal began his 2014 season in Doha, where he defeated Rosol, Kamke, Gulbis, Gojowczyk and Monfils to lift the Qatar ExxonMobil Open crown. While he finished the week with the title, it was not without its trials, as the Spaniard went to a deciding set in three of his five matches in Qatar.
Now, with his sights set on the Australian Open, the Spaniard’s path to the final is a considerably difficult one. Nadal could potentially meet Gael Monfils in the final 32, Hewitt in the second week of the tournament and a battle with world No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro in the quarter-finals. He may also need to dispatch of British No. 1 Andy Murray before he arrives at the Melbourne final.
Nadal is well aware of the task at hand, as this is not the first time he meets the budding Australian talent at a Grand Slam. While their last meeting ended in a straight sets victory for Nadal, he believes this time will likely be a tougher match.
“He has a big talent. He has a good serve. He’s able to play with very good control from the baseline. He has a very good talent on where you going to hit the ball. He’s a good player to start the tournament. To be through in that first round is because I’m ready to compete well.”
After beginning his season at the Hopman Cup, Tomic arrived in Sydney, prepared to defend his maiden ATP World Tour title. He defeated Granollers, Kavcic, Dolgopolov, Stakhovsky before succumbing to Del Potro in the finals.
Tomic has never lost in the opening round in Melbourne and has managed to reach at least the third round in his last three of five appearances. While drawing Nadal may not be the best of luck, the young Australian plans on pressuring Nadal and playing with nothing to lose.
“Now my focus is on playing Rafa. It’s a good opportunity. I’m playing a legend, probably one of the best players we have around now, Roger and Rafa. He’s a champion. Obviously (to have) won that many grand slams.
“It’s not easy. He’s one of the most difficult players to play. Unfortunately I have to play him first round, but I’m going to bring it to him.”
Rafa may be one of the favourites to win the Australian Open this year, but that does not mean he has an easy path to the final. Quite the contrary, his first round challenge against Tomic could prove to be a far more difficult first round match-up than he would have preferred. Even if Rafa wins the match, it could likely be a draining affair and add to his fatigue heading into the second round.
Prediction: Rafael Nadal in Straight Sets