Looking at his performance so far, it’s hard to believe Rafael Nadal has only won in Melbourne once. The No. 1 seed has looked unstoppable so far in the 2014 Australian Open, and there is little that would indicate he can’t continue all the way to the title.
Through four rounds of play, Nadal has yet to drop a set and, against a quality opponent in Kei Nishikori in the fourth round, Nadal put down a spirited fight from the 16th seed in dominant fashion.
The stats Nadal has produced so far in Melbourne have been staggering, with his winners-to-unforced-errors ratio yielding net-positive results in all four of his matches.
He has won over 70 percent of his first-serve points in each of his matches and was winning an average of 65 percent of his second-serve points through the first three rounds. That number dropped significantly (39 percent) in his match against Nishikori, but that can likely be chalked up to a higher-quality opponent (and is still a safe percentage).
In a chilling statement for the rest of the field, Monfils said after the match, per Alexandra Willis of AusOpen.com, “Definitely today [Nadal] was in great shape, much better than Doha for sure. Been a while since I play Rafa like that.”
Looking at the draw, the competition is by no means weak, but that only serves as a testament to Nadal’s dominance. The No. 1 seed holds a winning record against every player left in the tournament—an incredible 110-40 record against the rest of the field.
Nearly half of those losses can be attributed to Novak Djokovic, whom he would not see until the final.
Outside the field, Nadal’s frustration is his own worst enemy.
Court speed is inevitably a topic of conversation at any major event, and it’s come up again this year, though most players tended to disagree with Nadal’s assertion that the courts are playing much faster this year.
The biggest thing to hamper Nadal so far has been his pace of play. A not-infrequent problem for Nadal, the 27-year-old expressed frustration with the time-violation system after he was warned for exceeding the 20-second limit late in the third set against Nishikori.
“The rules say you can do it, but in my opinion that goes against the show,” Nadal said after the match, per Reuter's Ian Ransom (via the Toronto Sun). “The rules are there, sometimes I accept the rules, sometimes I am wrong.”
To make things worse, horrific blisters complicated Nadal’s fourth-round match. But even against a tough opponent in less-than-ideal circumstances, the Spaniard still cruised through to the quarterfinals with relative ease, where he will face No. 22 seed Grigor Dimitrov.
Adaptability is what transformed Nadal from a clay-court specialist into arguably one of the greatest players of all time, and as long as he maintains that mindset, there’s no reason the Spaniard shouldn’t be lifting the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup on Sunday.