Can Nadal go past Federer in Melbourne?

First tennis Grand Slam of 2021 begins at Melbourne Park on Monday.Due to Covid-19 rising cases in Australia,there were question marks over whether the event will go ahead after already being postponed once.Usually held in January,this major takes place in February for the first time in its history.

Early setbacks

Many players had to go through tough 14 day quarantine after landing in Australia.Few players were tested positive for Coronavirus while one member of hotel staff also tested positive.Some exhibition matches were cancelled while warm-up events were hit by withdrawal of some of the top players both in men’s and women’s category.Many matches were postponed.Despite all these hurdles,organisers had the belief that Melbourne will host Australian Open from February 8.Only 30000 fans can attend matches on each day.Roger Federer once again will be missed in Slams as he is yet to recover from two knee surgeries.

Top Half

Top seed Novak Djokovic is looking for a record 9th title here.Djokovic had off court issues in 2020 including his default in the fourth round of US Open.He faces Jeremy Chardy in the opener.He had tough challenge ahead as young American Francis Taifoe,former champion Stan Wawrinka and big serving Canadian Milos Raonic are in his quarter.Even if he survives,last year’s US Open runner-up Alexander Zverev is likely to face top ranked Serbian in the quarterfinals.6th seed German has smooth passage till the last eight.3rd seed Dominic Thiem won his first major title in New York last year after failing to win in his past 3 attempts.Thiem though has a packed quarter.He could meet local hope Nick Kyrgios in the third round.Grigor Dimitrov or Pablo Carreno Busta may be up next for him.Diego Schwartzmann,Dennis Shapovalov and Felix Auger Aliassime are all in his section.One of them will try to face Austrian in the last eight.19 year old Italian Jannik Sinner is a dark horse in this quarter after his title win in warm up event this week.

Bottom Half

Daniil Medvedev is undoubtedly inform player going into Australian Open.Hard hitting Russian ended 2020 on a high after winning ATP Tour Finals.He led Russia to their first ever ATP Cup triumph.Medvedev is on a personal best 14 match winning streak which included 10 wins against top 10 players.He has relatively easier draw.Borna Coric or David Goffin are likely fourth round opponents for Medvedev.Russian could meet his countryman – Andrey Rublev in the last eight.Rublev had won most ATP titles (5) last year.Rublev need to go past Sam Querry,Feliciano Lopez or Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta before making it to quarterfinals.World no.2 Rafael Nadal missed ATP Cup action due to lower back problem raising concerns over his participation in the first Slam of the year.He resumed training on Saturday.Without match practice,it will not be easy for 20 time Grand Slam champion to straightaway go into gear.Having said that,Nadal has got favourable draw in early rounds which will give him much needed time to recover in terms of fitness and also getting into competitve groove.He meets Alex de Minaur or Fabio Fognini in the fourth round.5th seed Greek Stefanos Tsistipas may be his quarterfinal opponent if 2019 semifinalist goes past either of Matteo Berrettini or Kevin Anderson.

Prediction

As Zverev has beaten Djokovic in the past,I feel German might play Thiem in the last four which would beĀ  a repeat of their thrilling US Open final last year.Zverev will be hungry to avenge that loss.As far as other semifinal is concerned,Nadal will edge past Medvedev to reach the final.Nadal then will beat Zverev to lift Norman Brooks Challenge Cup for his record 21st major title.Nadal will try to become only the third man in history to win all four Grand Slams twice.

 

By Shailesh Padhye