Sunday, December 19, 2010

Will Rafa Win His Fourth Straight Major? previews five storylines to watch during the 2011 season. In the fourth installment, we look at Rafael Nadal's quest to win a fourth straight Grand Slam title.
It hasn’t been done in 41 years, but Rafael Nadal has a chance to match Rod Laver’s feat of holding all four Grand Slam titles at one time when he goes for the Australian Open crown in January.
The Spaniard set the stage for the historic accomplishment with a showcase of dominance at the final three majors this season. He rolled to his fifth Roland Garros title without the loss of a set, won Wimbledon for a second time, and completed his Grand Slam set at the US Open - making him the first to win those three majors back-to-back since Laver completed his calendar year Grand Slam in 1969.
The 24-year-old Nadal said afterward: “For me, it's a dream to have the career Grand Slam, but this is more a dream to have the US Open. [It’s an] unbelievable feeling because I worked a lot all my life, in all difficult moments to be here, but I never imagined to have the four Grand Slams.”
Now Nadal has a realistic chance to hold all four titles at the same time when he enters Melbourne as the World No. 1. The only other time the Mallorcan topped the Australian Open draw, two years ago, he finished the fortnight as champion; he prevailed in a five-hour, 14-minute battle against fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in the semi-finals before defeating Roger Federer in a five-set final.
Though he failed to defend his title this year when he retired in his quarter-final match against Andy Murray with a knee injury, part of a challenging 11-month stretch ahead of his turnaround in April, Nadal will return to the Australian Open with a much different mindset this time around.
“I’m gonna try to repeat the same like last year, that I practised all well in December and I arrived to the beginning of the season with very high level, but without calm [since I didn’t] win in a long time,” said Nadal. “My opinion now, if I arrive with the same level like last year in the beginning of the season, the situation can change, because the calm [is] going to be there after this probably more emotional and good season of my career.”
Federer had two opportunities to win a fourth consecutive major, clinching Wimbledon, the US Open and Australian Open back-to-back only to be denied by Nadal in the 2006 and ‘07 Roland Garros finals. Will he turn the tables and end his rival’s quest for history in the Australian Open final?
Nadal was the undisputed World No. 1 in 2010, but Federer proved to be the tour’s best player following the US Open, capping his season with victory over the Spaniard at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, and will head to Oz prepared to defend his title.
But should Nadal come away from Melbourne with his 10th major title, there’s no doubt that the next question will be whether he can complete a calendar year Grand Slam.

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