Finishing the previous season with the fifth year-end no. 1 honor on his tally and the Davis Cup Finals crown in front of the home fans, Rafael Nadal secured another trophy at the Mubadala World Tennis Championships following a thrilling win over Stefanos Tsitsipas in December, taking a couple of days off and starting preparations for 2020.
Just six weeks after the Davis Cup Finals, Nadal was in action at another team event, leading Spain at the inaugural ATP Cup and delivering wins over Nikoloz Basilashvili, Pablo Cuevas and Yoshihito Nishioka to push his country into the quarters together with Roberto Bautista Agut who was too strong for the lower-ranked opponents.
Facing the first tough challenge, Rafa suffered a 6-4, 7-6 loss to David Goffin after grueling two hours and 23 minutes, wasting his opportunities and struggling to match the rival's pace before bouncing back in the doubles clash to keep Spain alive in the competition.
In the semis, Nadal battled past Alex de Minaur to propel his country into the final where he stood no chance against Novak Djokovic, losing 6-2, 7-6 and missing the opportunity to conquer another team event when Serbia defeated Spain in the deciding doubles encounter.
Heading to Melbourne where he grabbed the only title in 2009, Nadal ousted Hugo Dellien, Federico Delbonis, Pablo Carreno Busta and Nick Kyrgios after an intense battle to reach the quarter-final, standing one victory away from keeping the no.
1 spot ahead of Djokovic. Nonetheless, Dominic Thiem halted Rafa in four epic sets after four hours and ten minutes, taking all three tie breaks and allowing Novak Djokovic to clinch the title and become world no. 1 again ahead of the Spaniard.
After Melbourne, Nadal had to stay on the road for a week, opening Rafa Nadal Academy in Kuwait on February 5 and playing against Roger Federer in Cape Town two days later in front of the record-breaking crowd of 52,000. Heading back home to Mallorca, the 19-time Major champion hit the practice court at his Academy, working on his game and arriving in Acapulco on Thursday, seeking the first ATP title since the US Open last September.
Nadal will be the top seed at the ATP 500 event ahead of Alexander Zverev, Stan Wawrinka, Felix Auger-Aliassime, John Isner, Nick Kyrgios and Grigor Dimitrov. Rafa has won 15 out of 17 matches at this tournament, claiming commanding titles in 2005 and 2013 while it was still held on the clay court and losing in the final to Sam Querrey in 2017.
A year ago, Nadal wasted match points against Nick Kyrgios, hoping to bounce back and win the title that would keep him in contention for the no. 1 spot, with Novak Djokovic leading the draw in Dubai and standing as the clear favorite for the title after Roger Federer's withdrawal.