Thanks to the success achieved last year at Roland Garros, Rafael Nadal has risen to 20 Majors in his career and equaled Roger Federer's Grand Slam record. Recall that the Swiss champion, due to the injury and the consequent knee operation, played his last official match last year at the Australian Open in the semifinal against Novak Djokovic and will return to the field at the ATP 250 tournament in Doha in March.
Nadal, on the other hand, made it through the first three rounds of the Australian Open 2021 without great difficulty despite back problems and now, also considering Djokovic's injury, he will certainly have his chances to win the Australian Grand Slam for the second time in his career.
The presence of the Serbian in the round of 16 is still in strong doubt. Djokovic did not train today, and underwent some important tests to know specifically the extent of his problem. Having worked as the coach of Roger Federer and Pete Sampras in the past, Paul Annacone has a fair bit of insight on what makes top players tick.
The 57-year-old even guided Federer to some success against Novak Djokovic, most notably at the French Open 2011 and Wimbledon 2012. Appearing on a recent talk show for Tennis Channel, Annacone pointed out that the longer format in Slams makes it particularly difficult to get past players of the ilk of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.
Paul Annacone talks about the Big 3
"It takes a little bit more in a Major to get past them (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic)," Paul Annacone said. "They usually figure out ways to get through matches and I think for the men’s side when it is three out of five sets, I know really well talking to Roger when I coached him and when I coached Pete Sampras, they both feel like three out of five sets, I’m gonna figure it out."
Rafael Nadal has won the last 30 sets he has played at the Grand Slam stage, bettering his own streak of 29 consecutive sets between Roland Garros and Wimbledon in 2017. The 20-time Grand Slam champion will have to win both his fourth-round match against Fabio Fognini and his possible last-eight clash with Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets to equal Federer's record.
Nadal beating both of those quality opponents in straight sets is not a given though, especially since his back issues haven't yet gone away.