Following a somewhat shocking start to his professional campaign this season, all eyes will be on Rafael Nadal as he begins his long awaited return to Grand Slam competition. The Spaniard missed last year’s US Open and has been dealing with a plague of injuries since then, but is now looking to simply get back to form in time for the French Open. Rafa will begin his fortnight in Melbourne against a competitor he is very familiar with, Mikhail Youzhny. This marks the 16th time that they cross paths on the tour, with the Nadal vs Youzhny Head to Head standing at 11-4.
The 28-year-old suffered from a bad start to the year when Germany’s Michael Berrer pushed him to three sets. He eventually lost the match 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 to the then 127th ranked Berrer. It was only his eighth professional contest since the Wimbledon Championships and came on the heels of a slew of injuries that included wrist problems and appendicitis.
With the terrible start in Doha now firmly behind him, Nadal admits that he did not expect much from his first tournament back. It is to be expected coming off an injury layoff and a lengthy spell on the sidelines.
“These things happen after a long time without being on the road, being on rhythm, being in competition,” said Nadal. “I was playing with more nerves because after a long time away I wanted to win.
“My motivation and my hunger to keep doing things well is still the same.”
His opponent, Mikhail Youzhny, has also only had one professional match so far this season. The Russian lost to Nikoloz Basilashvili in the opening round in Doha and decided to skip any tournaments and focus on his preparation for the Australian Open.
Nadal and Youzhny have already crossed paths 15 times on the professional tour, including a meeting at the Australian Open a decade ago in 2005. This is certainly an interesting encounter but even with Nadal’s troubles, he should be able to work his way into the second round of the tournament.
Prediction: Rafael Nadal in Four Sets