Rafael Nadal played only three ATP tournaments on hard in 2018, winning the title in Toronto and playing well at the Australian Open and the US Open. Eager to improve his game on the most common surface and avoid injuries, the Spaniard decided to make significant changes in his serve and approach, embracing new service motion and hitting more valiantly with his first groundstroke than ever before.
Using the favorable draw and producing his A-game, Nadal sailed into the Australian Open final in 2019, beating all six rivals in straight sets before falling to Novak Djokovic in his most brutal Major final defeat. Nadal defeated Frances Tiafoe 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in an hour and 47 minutes in the quarters, dropping 17 points behind the initial shot and producing four breaks to move into the semis and set Stefanos Tsitsipas clash.
Rafael Nadal praised Stefanos Tsitsipas ahead of their 2019 Australian Open clash.
After beating Tiafoe, Nadal said he is delighted with how he played in Melbourne up to that point. The Spaniard attacked with both serve and forehand to gain an advantage on the court and kept the points on his racquet, which was not always the case in the past.
Also, Rafa praised the fellow semi-finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas, saying he made impressive improvements and became a contender for notable titles. Tsitsipas claimed the ATP Next Gen Finals crown in November 2018, gathering momentum and playing on a high level in Melbourne two months later for a deep run that included a stellar victory over Roger Federer.
Still, the youngster could not do much against the more experienced rival, as Rafa beat him 6-2, 6-4, 6-0 after a dominant display on both serve and return. Despite that, Nadal was confident in Tsitsipas' abilities, saying he should stay at the top for many years.
Two and a half years later, the Greek is a Masters 1000 champion and a top-3 player, sending Nadal out from that group and wishing to become world no. 1 one day. "The young generation does not want to wait for big wins or titles; they are here now, with Frances reaching the quarters and Stefanos waiting in the semis.
It will be a great year in terms of sharing the generations that make the sport special, and that would be interesting to watch. Over the last 12 months, Stefanos Tsitsipas has constantly improved his game, winning the first ATP title and playing in other ATP 500 and Masters 1000 finals.
He is in the semi-final now and well-capable for beating the world's best players. He is a great player and should remain at the top for a long time," Rafael Nadal said.