Match-tight Nadal ready to go in Melbourne

 - Simon Cambers

World No 1 has barely stopped since winning at Roland Garros last June

Rafael Nadal Australian Open 2020Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Rafael Nadal has always enjoyed playing lots of matches, happy to feel the miles in his legs as he eyes the biggest prizes in the sport. That might be just as well because as he prepares to begin his title bid at the Australian Open, which begins on Monday, since his win over Dominic Thiem in Paris for his 12th Roland Garros title last June, Nadal has barely stopped.

After a short break following Wimbledon, Nadal played Montreal, won the US Open, played Laver Cup, got married, played the Paris Masters, the ATP Finals in London and then, even as his legs were aching, produced heroics as he carried Spain all the way to victory in the revamped Davis Cup in November.  

The world No 1 and top seed begins his campaign on Tuesday in good form and good spirits, chasing his second title here 11 years after his first.

His fourth US Open title in September took his career grand slam tally to 19, one short of the all-time record held by Roger Federer, adding a nice bit of spice to the first grand slam event of 2020.  

The 33-year-old has reached the final in four of the past eight years, including 12 months ago, when he played outstanding tennis only to be outplayed by Novak Djokovic in a one-sided final.

The only concern for Nadal, as he prepares to face Hugo Dellien of Bolivia in the first round on Tuesday, is that he might run out of steam, having played more than usual in the final quarter of 2019.

Such was his packed schedule that he only had one day of honeymoon and his off-season was shorter than usual as he flew down to Australia for the ATP Cup, where again he played well, winning four of his six matches as Spain reached the final, denied only by Djokovic and Serbia.

He might not be fresh but he seems happy. “Hopefully (I am) good,” he said. “I don't know. I am practising, I think, more or less OK. Just remain for me two more days of practice. Let's try to keep going with the right intensity and with the right feelings. Hopefully I will be ready for Tuesday.

Rafael Nadal Australian Open 2020Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

For all the injury problems Nadal has endured throughout his career, from his foot to his now chronic knees, this will be his 15th visit to Melbourne and though he missed the event in 2006 and 2013, when he has been healthy he has been a contender.  

Back at No 1 again, Nadal is the first man to top the rankings in three decades, a remarkable testament to his talent, longevity and, he says, pure love of the sport.

I can't say I have been lucky with injuries, because I have not,” he said. “But, well, there is no secret. There is only about passion, about love for the game, and about be able to stay positive in the tough moments."

“It is true that I went through some tough situations during all my career. But I was able to always, with probably the positive attitude and with the right people around, that they were a key, I was able to find a way to keep going."

“(Being No 1 in three decades) is something that is difficult to imagine for me because for my style of game, as a lot of people said, my career should be little bit shorter. But here we are. Happy for that. Even for me is a big surprise to be where I am at my age. So, happy for everything. Just enjoying the situation.

Nadal maintains that he will be happy with his career, whether or not he matches or overtakes Federer as the all-time grand slam leader.

It’s a humility that has served him well throughout his career but should he win here this year, then it would be fitting that he would then arrive in Paris in May with a chance to top the pile, in the place where it all began.