Rafael Nadal: Top Five Reasons He Will Win the 2011 Australian Open

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Rafael Nadal: Top Five Reasons He Will Win the 2011 Australian Open
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The Spanish constitution acknowledged Juan Carlos as King of Spain on Nov. 22, 1975.

At that time, Rafael Nadal was not even born. To this day this will most probably be the only major title the boy wonder from Mallorca will never have.

However in the sport of tennis, Rafa is the current real king.

Statistics for the World No. 1 are ridiculous when we consider the Australian Open is the only grand slam title Nadal does not currently hold, although he did triumph in Melbourne two years ago.

Nadal has won nine Grand Slam titles, all in a five-year span.

At 24 years, Rafa is the third youngest of the career Slammers, behind 22-year-old Don Budge in 1938 and Aussie Rod Laver in 1962.

On the eve of the first major of the season it is hard not to make him the prime favorite for the 2011 Australian Open.

Even if Roger Federer is the defending champion and back at his best, I pick Rafa Nadal to win his 10th major title.

At the same time he will have bring another milestone to his resume: winning all four Grand Slam tournaments in succession, a feat which has not been done since Rod Laver in 1969.


1. Mental edge over Federer

So much has been written and discussed about the possibility of Roger Federer being the greatest player of the modern era that Rafa Nadal's extraordinary career has hardly been considered in that light.

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Even if Nadal would still need at least seven Grand Slams to catch the man from Switzerland (If Federer still maintains a record of 16 majors claimed, which is far from done deal), it is debatable to claim that Rafa has the mental edge over Federer in Grand Slams.

At 24 years-old, Roger Federer established his own record with two Grand Slams won, while Rafael Nadal is at nine with all four majors under his belt. Surely Roger must be thinking about this fact before playing Rafael.

Don't forget also the following number, which is one of the most important: in the head-to-head statistics, if you consider their three most recent Grand Slam final showdowns, Nadal wins hands down with victories on each of the three surfaces: five sets in the Australian Open final in 2009; five sets in the Wimbledon final the year before; straight sets for the loss of just four games a few weeks before that at the 2008 French Open.

And not only does he convincingly win the head-to-head with Federer, he has won his Grand Slam titles against tougher opponents. He has had to beat Federer six times along the way; Federer has only beaten Nadal twice for his 16.


2. Experience

Nadal can draw on the experience of his Wimbledon triumphs. Early in his career, skeptics questioned if Nadal could ever master the grass-court Grand Slam, and his success at Wimbledon gives the top seed the self belief he can master the Deco Turf of New York.

"I always thought it was going to be easier for me to play well in Australia than here," Nadal said at a press conference in New York last September. "But at the same time, I always thought it was gonna be easier to play well here than Wimbledon. So you never know what happened in your career."

Clive Rose/Getty Images

Nadal has also learned how to prepare best ahead of a major. By reducing his schedule, Nadal manage to win three majors on three different surfaces.

The Spaniard has also learned how to improve against players such as Djokovic, Murray and Söderling, the ones who upset him in the past.

Not to forget also of all top five players, Nadal is the only player to have the best winning/losing record against all other four:

Nadal-Federer (14-8)
Nadal-Djokovic (16-7)
Nadal-Murray (9-4)
Nadal-Söderling (5-2)

 

3. Mental toughness

Many thought nobody would top Jimmy Connors  in terms of mental toughness. The former lefty World No. 1 came back from brinks to win memorable matches at the US Open.

Of course his 1991 performance against Aaron Krickstein is the first match that comes to mind since he was 39 years old when he defeated his long time rival in the fifth set tie-break.

Then Came Michael Chang, Lleyton Hewitt, and Rafa.

Nadal's first goal is always the same : to win.

The secret for his mental toughness is he plays each point as if it were match point.

Mark Dadswell/Getty Images

When Rafa has to play key points in a match, then he's the devil. He just won't give up; he would catch a ball from the stands in the crowd if he had to in order to hit a winner.

Whether he has to come back on court for the same match 10 times due to rain interruption, or if he has the flu, or even worth a broken arm, Nadal will always manage to find a way to win a match.

We can disagree on Nadal's game as some may not like it, but nobody should put his sports ethics in doubt.

Nadal has also learned over the years not to panic.

When odds are against him in a match and the score is not in his favor, the top seed doesn't panic and waits for the crucial moment to strike back and win.

Not even Federer can do that and that is why he leads their head-to-head meetings.

 

4. Improvement on the serve and many other shots

The bad news for many players who will face Nadal in the near future is his constant improvement.

Rarely have we seen a player improve so much over the course of a career.

Nadal used to have a weak serve when he won his first French Open in 2005.

Over the course, of his career his team knew he would have to work very hard on the serve in order to win majors which are not play on clay.

Nadal had changed his forehand with a quicker motion in order to be more reactive to fast balls and to become a better counter puncher.

As far as his serve, he has acknowledged he will have a lower first-set percentage, but that is a compromise so he can reach higher speeds, to have a crushing serve and so to win free points.

To this day, he can still improve a lot on the serve.

But last year was the culmination of five years work on the serve: the desired speed, efficiency and flow of aces. His technique is spot-on, with a much better transfer of his body weight forward.

His speed is improving a lot, too. At the US Open, everybody was amazed by how powerful and efficient his serve had become, which brings me to my last point. The surface is not an issue anymore.



5. The Australian Open surface is closer to clay than grass

Knowing Nadal's worst turf to play on is the Deco Turf played at the US Open and that the boy wonder from Mallorca won it; Nadal will be playing on the Melbourne Park courts as if they were clay courts.

Plexicushion, which is the official surface of the Australian Open, is slower than Deco Turf, and the bounce is much higher, which gives Rafa even more time to think before hitting.

Clay will always be the Spaniard's favorite surface, but he also understands that he needs to be playing well on hard courts if he wants to win more Grand Slams.

Every player has a favorite surface and a worst surface to play on. That's what makes the tennis so interesting.

Nadal is maybe the first one ever to have the keys to play extremely well on clay, grass and hard court.

It is even scarier if we consider Rafa is only 24 years old, and he will still be improving on all three surfaces.

The only player who will beat Rafael Nadal is Rafael Nadal.

A major injury, or major illness is what will defeat the World No. 1.

Of course, he still has a demanding game, which is why he needs to win as much as possible before it is too late.

If he shows at Rod Laver Arena at 100 percent, not even the best Federer will beat Nadal. If he plays at 80 percent, maybe Federer will have a shot if he plays his very best.

Stay tuned!

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