After a short season sparked by the pandemic, Rafael Nadal secured the 20th Major crown at last year's Roland Garros in October. It was Nadal's second tournament since late February, and he had to fight both his opponents and challenging conditions in Paris.
Overcoming all obstacles, Rafa defeated all seven opponents in straight sets and stylishly equaled Roger Federer's record in Major. The Spaniard edged out the first four opponents before facing Jannik Sinner in the quarters.
The youngster served for the first set and had a break advantage in set number two before Rafa prevailed in straight sets. Diego Schwartzman kept Nadal on the court for more than three hours in the semifinals, and the 12-time champion earned a 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 win to set up the title clash against Novak Djokovic.
In a battle of the best players in the world, Nadal defeated Djokovic 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 in two hours and 41 minutes to lift the 13th trophy from 16 trips to Paris. Rafa had to bring aggressive and fearless tennis against Novak, losing many matches against the Serbian since Beijing 2013 and delivering the right tactic to leave Novak far behind, at least in the first two sets.
Nadal fired 31 winners and 14 unforced errors, acting hard from both wings and taking 51% of the return points to de-power Djokovic's serve. Djokovic made 52 unforced errors, seeking game A from him for more than two hours and suffering a huge loss despite a solid effort in set number three, where he kept in touch with Nadal.
Andy Roddick reflects on the Big 3
Andy Roddick recently opined that Novak Djokovic has a longer "runway" left to win Major titles compared to his great rivals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. The American also believes Djokovic has, over the last decade, consistently been the best player out of the Big 3.
"Is Novak going to be prepared to play in Australia by avenue of vaccination?" Roddick said. "What I will say confidently is, given the runway and the toll on the bodies [of the Big 3] and what we've seen as far as bodies breaking down - Novak seemingly has the longest runway and has been the best consistently for the last five, 10 years even."
At the same time, Roddick admitted that Nadal's path would become easier if the Serb (a nine-time champion in Melbourne) were to skip the event. "But he (Djokovic) only got better this year," Roddick continued.
"I don't know if you can say that about Rafa, I certainly don't think you can say that about Roger, unfortunately at this point in their careers. So, Novak still has to be the favorite [for the Australian Open].
But this new wrinkle where Rafa comes in and there's, you know, the route to the Aussie Open title - [where Nadal] doesn't have to go through Novak."