Rafael Nadal: 3 Men Rafa Doesn't Want to Face in His Draw
Due to his incredibly high standards, 2011 was not a year that would have caused Rafael Nadal to jump for joy.
Between 2005 and 2010, Rafa captured nine slams, which was good enough for an average of 1.5 slams per year. However, he was expected to win many more majors in 2011, but Novak Djokovic was the man of the year, and the Spaniard was left with just one slam (the French Open) last year.
In 2012, Rafa sees new beginnings, and must undoubtedly want to start afresh in order to add to his tally of ten Grand Slams.
And the Australian Open -- the first slam of the year -- seems an appropriate place to begin his quest to regain the throne.
The draws are out, and Rafa's part of the draw could potentially be tricky for him.
Here are the three men in Nadal's quarter that the Spaniard will not want to run into.
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Nicolas Almagro (10) -- Spain
Nicolas Almagro is a great player; the kind of guy who wears you down, because he is just so consistent and unrelenting. However, the reason that he is not in the top three is that his game isn't the kind of game that will really be able to beat Rafa. In order to beat Nadal, you must take the game to him, and hit through him, which is Almagro's weakness: power.
Marcos Baghdatis -- Cyprus
Baghdatis is a player with a big game. The hard-hitting Cypriot does have the style of play that could potentially beat Nadal, but the reason for which he is only an honorable mention is fairly straightforward. His form has significantly dropped in the past few years, and age is taking its toll fairly early (age 26) on Baghdatis, which is why I think Rafa will dispatch of him relatively easily if they encounter each other.
Feliciano Lopez (18) -- Spain
Contrary to Almagro, Feliciano Lopez has the kind of game that could possibly beat Rafa. Though his groundstrokes could be hit a bit harder, the 30-year-old has a big serve, and is comfortable moving to the net. As mentioned earlier, taking the game to Nadal is the way to beat him, and he can do that; I'm just not sure whether he can last at a high level game-wise and mentally against his compatriot.
3. Stanislas Wawrinka (21) -- Switzerland
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OK, maybe Stan the Man isn't at the top of his game at this moment, but he's always a tricky match for any top player.
Playing in the shadow of his compatriot, and maybe the greatest tennis player of all time Federer, Wawrinka is one of the more underrated players in the world, and always is a tough test.
Granted, he didn't do particularly well in the latter two slams of 2011 -- losing both in the second round -- but he is the kind of player who bounces back from bad form.
Though Wawrinka's backhand may not look as nice as that of Roger Federer, it is a better groundstroke (in my opinion). The 26-year-old doesn't have a major weakness, so Rafa won't really be able to harp on one particular aspect of his game.
Though Nadal has won all of their seven encounters, only one was in Melbourne, and I think that Wawrinka has significantly improved since then.
Were these two to face off, I think Rafa would win in four.
2. John Isner (16) -- USA
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OK, rewind to May 23rd, 2011, and you will see Rafael Nadal edge John Isner in a tough five-setter, 6-4, 6-7 (2-7), 6-7 (2-7), 6-2, 6-4.
Following his tight victory over the American, Nadal said, “Always it’s very, very close match against John because with his serve he arrives to the tiebreak and you play under pressure all the time."
And this was only at Rafa's beloved French Open.
At the Australian Open, which is better for Isner and worse for Nadal, the 6'9" giant's serves will be landing a lot harder than at Roland Garros.
Despite the fact that Isner has won none of their three meetings, he is maturing, while Nadal seems to be in worse condition than he was last year.
If they meet, I expect a repeat of last year's French Open encounter: Rafa will tough it out in five.
1. Tomas Berdych (7) -- Czech Republic
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Of all the people in Rafa's quarter of the draw, this man is the most dangerous.
World No. 7 Tomas Berdych is one of the hardest-hitting players on tour, with an enormous serve and deadly groundstrokes which can beat almost any player.
Though the Czech has often proven inconsistent, but on his day, he can beat Nadal because he is the kind of guy who wins; he doesn't let the opponent lose. And Rafa is vulnerable to this style of play.
In last year's Australian Open, he did extremely well, beating Philipp Kolschreiber, Richard Gasquet, and Fernando Verdasco en route to the quarterfinals, where he ran into the soon-to-be champion Novak Djokovic.
In terms of head-to-head Nadal leads Berdych 10-3, with their last nine encounters all won by the Spaniard.
However if these two do, in fact, face off in Melbourne, it'll be a very interesting match.
Australian Open Predictions for Nadal
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I think Nadal will storm through the early rounds of the Australian Open, and make it to the semis, where he will defeat Roger Federer.
In the final, however, I predict he will fall to dark horse Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who will capture his first Grand Slam.
Final Prediction: Runner-up
NOTE: It's kind of embarrassing putting any of these guys to potentially upset Nadal, because all of them have such bad head-to-head records against him, but they are potential trap matches for him, and even if he wins the match, it will take a toll on him.