Six months ago, when his return to the ATP Tour was far from certain, Rafael Nadal had very modest expectations for the early part of 2022. He has certainly over delivered!
The Spaniard began the year with consecutive titles, including a record-setting 21st major at the Australian Open, and now has the chance to complete his best start to a season at the Abierto Mexicano Telcel presentado por HSBC in Acapulco.
“The start of the year has been infinitely better than I could ever have imagined,” said Nadal at his pre-tournament press-conference. “Winning in Australia was deeply satisfying. Not so much because of reaching 21 Grand Slams, but because it came at a very difficult time for me.” The World No. 5 played his first ATP match in five months in early January.
Nadal holds a 10-0 record in 2022 after also winning the Melbourne Summer Set. In Acapulco he will have the chance to notch up 12 wins from his first 12 matches of the year, something he has never done before. His current personal best came in 2014, when he won his first 11 clashes.
Nadal’s Fastest Season Starts
The 90-time ATP champion has plenty of motivation to keep bettering himself, even at 35 years of age. “Feeling competitive in Australia and seeing that my foot held up, even playing five hours in one day, [it] drives me to keep playing and it gives me the energy to carry on,” said Nadal. “When I was 23, I thought I wouldn’t be playing at 29. When I was 29, I thought at 33 I wouldn’t be where I was. But for now, I’m still here, and that’s really wonderful.”
Acapulco will be his first tournament as the man with the most majors in history. It looked like an unreachable target when he fell 10 Slams behind Roger Federer after the 2010 Australian Open. His new status has reignited the debate on who will eventually be considered the best of the Big Three, the trio that also includes Novak Djokovic.
Nadal touched on the subject at his press conference. “I think at the end of the day it’s a question of opinion. There are various arguments that could give that moniker to any of us, and all those arguments are valid. It depends where you look. The reality is that all three of us have done much more than we could have dreamed. And from there, let the experts talk about it and we’ll focus on playing.”
Nadal still has his feet firmly on the ground. So much so that he’s aware of how difficult it will be to go deep at the Mexican ATP 500 event, which he won for the first time since it became a hard-court event in 2020 (d. Fritz). “I’ve got a really tough draw,” said Nadal, who could face Matteo Berrettini in the quarter-finals and his Australian Open final opponent Daniil Medvedev in the semi-finals.
FOLLOW THIS WEEK’S ACTION
“At the moment, I’m not thinking about those things,” said Nadal. “I’m simply happy to play tennis. I’m really excited to do so after playing so few tournaments recently. That’s why I’ve come here, and because I’m excited to still be competing, not just about results.” His first challenge will come against lucky loser Denis Kudla, following the withdrawal of Dallas Open champion Reilly Opelka.
The match will take place on Tuesday night on the new centre court in Acapulco, which has a capacity of over 10,000. Just being able to compete again after his superhuman effort in Melbourne is reward enough for Nadal. “My only expectation this week is to be able to play,” he said.
Did You Know?
Nadal has won 50 matches at Latin American events in his ATP Tour career. Of those tournaments, he has his best record in Acapulco (20-2).