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By Chris Oddo / Friday, January 10, 2014


Who got the tougher draw, Rafael Nadal, or the poor guys that have to face him in the first week at Melbourne?

Photo Source: AFP

Did Rafael Nadal get stiffed by this year's men's singles draw at the Australian Open? Please, don't make me laugh, because when you're the No. 1 player in the world, and you can basically beat anybody on your most average of days, it's really kind of impossible to get stiffed by the draw.

See the Australian Open Men's Singles Draw Here

The ones who really got stiffed are the guys that will have to play him in the first week.

But with that said, Rafael Nadal, in search of his second Australian Open title and his 14th career Grand Slam title, may have to work more than usual to get to the final four.

And that could become a factor that works in his opponent's favor come week two in Melbourne. Emphasis on “could.”

After drawing Bernard Tomic in the first round (horrible draw for Tomic, who is generally in excellent form in Melbourne, and who has beaten everybody he has faced not named Nadal or Federer in his last three Melbourne campaigns), Nadal could possibly face Gael Monfils in round three, Lleyton Hewitt in the round of 16, and Juan Martin del Potro in the quarterfinals.

Not to worry, disciples of the school of Rafa.

Other than Del Potro, who appears to be in fine early-season form, Nadal is virtually a lock to defeat any of the aforementioned characters, and the only real drama awaiting us is whether or not Nadal is in seek-and-destroy mode from the get-go. If he is, odds are he won't lose a set in the first week, and his opponents will be laid to waste like so many have before them, all signs will point to another run at the title for Nadal.

If Nadal falters in the early going, however, things could get complicated for the 13-time Grand Slam champion. If the forces of nature are truly conspiring against him, Tomic could summon all his prowess, confidence and home-soil swagger to push Nadal into a grinding affair, possibly stretching him to four or even five sets (unlikely, given the chasm of talent between the two). Monfils could do the same thing against Nadal, but even if he does, will the challenges faced by Nadal actually hurt his chances, or will they just stiffen him for the battles to come in the second week?

In other words, will Rafa's knees hold up over a seven-match grind, or is he fragile, coming off of a long layoff?

The true question about Nadal, then, is the bigger picture: Has he truly mastered the knees, or are the knees still his master? Because this question lingers like a haze in the sky, imperceptible yet present, whenever Nadal competes, there will always be mystery and shreds of doubt surrounding Nadal.

Not his talent mind you, but his health.

Still, all signs point to a healthy, happy, title-hungry Nadal in the early goings of the 2014 season. He won the Doha title just a week ago, and while he didn't play the invincible tennis that we know he can during that title run, he's gotten the practice he needs.

So before we panic about Nadal and his so-called tough draw, let's remember that this is the player that turned in the best hard-court tennis of his career in 2013, and he's also a player that has seemingly become the master of his knees—at least for now.

With all that in mind, it looks to me like Tomic, Monfils, and everybody else who has to come up against Rafa in a Slam got the bad draw.

They got stiffed.

For Nadal, at this juncture of his remarkable career, there really can't be a bad draw. There are just degrees of difficulty. The higher the difficulty, the more relentless Rafa's resistance is likely to be.

Rafa will be fine. It's those other guys we need to worry about.


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