Eugene Hoshiko/Associated Press
2014 Australian Open Expectations: For Rafael Nadal, the plan is to look ahead with great respect for his opponents and honest preparation for each and every match. As long as he plays his best tennis, he always has a chance for more Grand Slam hardware.
For the rest of the tennis world, there was the matter of Nadal chasing down Slam No. 14 to tie Pete Sampras. He would also have a double collection of the career Grand Slam, something no other player had accomplished in the Open era, let alone on three different surfaces and two types of hard courts.
So, yeah, there was at least all of this at stake, let alone the present-day reality of surviving a stacked draw and the likelihood of defeating three-time defending Australian Open champion, Novak Djokovic.
Post Aussie Assessment: The first week was a metaphorical breeze through literal heat. He arrived at the quarterfinals with only a sore on his hand, but it quickly became the blister seen around the world.
He struggled through a challenging onslaught from young Grigor Dimitrov in the quarterfinals. Then he rose above the Fedal hype of the semifinals and played his best match since summer by once again conquering the Swiss Maestro. There were breathtaking shots, but his resilience and spirit will always take top billing.
Then along came Stanislas Wawrinka, seemingly a gift-wrapped replacement for his arch rival Djokovic. But Nadal was dominated; then he was demoralized. His back seized up early in the second set and played on as only a shell of himself, unable to move, retrieve or play the inspired tennis we take for granted.
It was difficult to watch him gamely compete, and another ominous warning that the end of a legend's career can happen at any time.
Final Grade: A-