Rafael Nadal claimed five ATP titles in 2018, including a Major and three Masters 1000 events. Still, the Spaniard struggled a lot to stay injury-free and embrace a full calendar. Winning 45 out of 49 matches that year, Rafa skipped the last part of the season following the US Open, working hard on his game and returning stronger at the Australian Open in January 2019.
The Spaniard decided to make significant changes in his serve and game philosophy, embracing new service motion and attacking right from the first groundstroke to gain the advantage and shorten the points. Armed with that new package in Melbourne 2019, Nadal sailed into the final after winning all 18 sets, setting the title clash against Novak Djokovic where he stood no chance.
"It is very emotional for me to back in the semi-final here in Melbourne; I had some troubles at this event throughout my career. After a while without being on the court, this result means everything to me, and I just want to thank the crowd.
It is always special to play on this court at Rod Laver Arena, and I'm thrilled with the way I played tonight. The possibilities to play at this level after such a long break were not that high, and I feel lucky to be where I'm at the moment after everything that I went through.
To play this good, that's why I wake up every morning, going to the court or the gym with a goal to be a better player.
Rafael Nadal spoke about his new approach at the Australian Open 2019.
During the off-season, I worked on my serve and the first shot, and here in Melbourne, I have hit many winners with my forehand right after the serve; that's very important for me.
If I want to extend my career for a few more years, I will have to find many free points and keep working on that in the future; it is a crucial element for me at this stage of my career. I enjoy my new serve and hitting that first forehand, too; I used it before to prepare the point, but it is more efficient now.
I feel fortunate about all the people I have had around me throughout my career; my uncle is probably the most important person in my career, but he decided to stop a year and a half ago. Carlos Moya joined my team, and he has formed a great combination with Francisco; he gives me the other view of the game, and it was important to change some things with him on the board.
We are very organized and have good preparations for the matches; in general, we are a great team working together, which means everything to me. I have always believed in long-time projects, even now, after having almost the same team for 20 years," Rafael Nadal said.