One year ago at this time, Rafael Nadal was on top of the tennis world.
He entered the Australian Open as the No. 1 player in the world, having broken through against long-time rival Roger Federer in the previous year's Wimbledon in an epic five-set marathon. He followed that up by reaching his first-ever US Open semifinal.
Although he seemingly had an avalanche of momentum on his side, many still wondered if Wimbledon was a fluke, and if Nadal could win a major title on a hard court surface.
Nadal showed all of his doubters he was truly an all-time great when he defeated Federer in another five-set match for the ages. It seemed time had passed Federer by, and Nadal would have a legitimate shot at winning the Grand Slam in 2009 with his previous win at Wimbledon and his dominance at the French Open.
Dreams of immortality disappeared when knee tendonitis slowed Nadal at the French Open. He experienced the first loss of his career, having been beaten by Robin Soderling. Things only got worse for Majorca's favorite son when he was forced to pull out of Wimbledon due to the same knee tendonitis, unable to defend his crown.
Nadal returned prior to the US Open and showed the heart and grit he has displayed countless times by returning to the semifinals. It was obvious to all he still wasn't completely healthy, but he showed glimpses of his previous greatness.
In Nadal's absence, Federer won his first French Open, completing his career Grand Slam. He then won Wimbledon to become the all-time leader in Grand Slam titles and made the finals of the US Open before losing to Juan Martin del Potro.
Nadal has struggled at times in this year's Aussie Open, but after a strong showing against Ivo Karlovic, he appears to be very close to top form. He dominated in the first two rounds but then faltered for a set against Phillip Kohlschreiber and Karlovic.
Andy Murray is next up for Nadal in what should be an outstanding quarterfinal matchup. Murray is playing at a high level, but he still needs to show he can win a major title. Nadal is a familiar foe, and both men will need to play their very best in order to advance to the semifinals.
Rafael Nadal brings an outward passion and fire for the game that no other player in the game currently displays. At his best, he was the most fit player on tour. He is now healthy physically, and most importantly, the passion to be the best is burning inside him. That's great news for tennis fans around the world but bad news for Andy Murray and the rest of the remaining players in the Australian Open.
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