Rafael Nadal: Breaking Down His Entire 2011 Australian Open Draw
Rafael Nadal opens at the 2011 Australian Open this year, looking to complete his Grand Slam.
Former-Grand Slam winner Rod Laver noted that Nadal's accomplishment, while impressive, wouldn't technically be a Grand Slam, since it didn't occur in one calendar year.
Rafa couldn't care less, but he'll have to get past Roger Federer (or Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray or one of the tour's other top players) to get it.
It won't be easy, and here's a breakdown of Rafa's path to the final, starting in round one. And obviously his opponents are to be determined, but I'll give them based on my predictions.
First Round: Nadal Vs. Marcos Daniel
The 13-year veteran journeyman isn't a bad player, ranked No. 93 in the world.
But he'll be overmatched against Rafa.
Prediction: Nadal: 6-3, 6-4, 6-3
Second Round: Nadal Vs. Daniel Gimeno-Traver
Another veteran journeyman, ranked No. 60.
They've never played before, but Rafa shouldn't have much trouble here.
Prediction: Nadal: 6-4. 7-5, 6-2
Third Round: Nadal Vs. No. 31 Feliciano Lopez
Lopez is the No. 31 seed, and has had (relative) success against Nadal. He's a good player who is capable of getting hot.
He has a 2-6 record against his fellow countryman, including a win last year at the Queen's Club warm-up tournament for Wimbledon.
But in a major, I can't see Rafa losing here, or even dropping a set.
Prediction: Nadal: 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-4
Round of 16: Nadal Vs. No. 15 Marin Cilic
Now things start to get interesting.
Nadal has a tough matchup against the hard-hitting, mercurial Croatian, who is capable of beating anyone on a good day.
Cilic actually is 1-0 lifetime against Nadal, with a routine 6-1, 6-3 win in Beijing in 2009. And Cilic is a much better player in 2011.
I think Cilic can take a set off of Nadal, but he isn't consistent enough to win the match.
Prediction: Nadal: 6-2, 3-6, 6-1, 7-5
Quarterfinals: Nadal Vs. No. 27 David Nalbandian
The Argentine is nowhere near a lock to make the quarters, but he's more talented than the No. 10 seed Mikhail Youzhny and if he plays up to his potential, this matchup will happen.
Nalbandian is another uber-talented, but mercurial player, and you never know how he'll play.
He's 2-2 lifetime against Nadal, and is definitely capable of pulling off the upset.
But is he tough enough mentally to put a whole match together against a competitor like Nadal on a big stage like this?
I doubt it.
Prediction: Nadal: 6-4, 6-4, 6-2
Semifinals: Nadal Vs. No. 5 Andy Murray
A guy like Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is more than capable of getting here, but I'm not betting against Murray.
Murray is 4-9 against Nadal, but did beat him in the US Open in 2008 and in last year's Australian Open quarterfinals. But in their last matchup in a major, Nadal won easily at Wimbledon.
Their pretty even on this surface, but again, Nadal is just too tough mentally.
Prediction: Nadal: 7-5, 2-6, 6-2, 7-5
Finals: Nadal Vs. No. 1 Federer
Were you expecting anyone else?
Nadal leads the series 14-8.
And even though Nadal has owned Federer in majors lately, Roger always comes to play.
But again, Rafa is just too good, and essentially doesn't have a weakness. Federer doesn't have much of one, but he can occasionally struggle with his backhand and hasn't been as dominant as he's aged.
I have to go with Nadal here, but as always, it won't be easy.
Prediction: Nadal: 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-3
Who Has the Best Chance to Beat Nadal (outside of Federer)?
If Nadal loses before the finals, it will likely come to Murray. Murray has choked in majors, but he's good enough to finally put it together and win it all in Australia.
I don't see it happening, but it wouldn't be a huge shocker.
Dark Horse Player to Beat Nadal
Outside of my projected opponents, Robin Soderling is the likeliest to take out Nadal.
But I don't see him getting past Nalbandian, in a battle of two talented hard-hitters.
If he does, though, he could give Nadal some trouble. He beat Rafa at Roland Garros in 2009.
What Do You Think?
What do you think?
Can Rafa complete the (kind of) Grand Slam?
If not, who will beat him? Federer?
Voice your opinion in the comments.
Matt Rudnitsky is a student at the University of Michigan and a Featured Columnist/writing intern at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Mattrud