Rafael Nadal admitted to John McEnroe on court on Tuesday that he felt the “possibilities were not very high” of him reaching the Australian Open semifinals before this fortnight started. And it’s easy to see why.
Heading into Melbourne, Nadal hadn’t played an official match since the US Open semis last September, and was coming off arthroscopic ankle surgery – which he underwent in November – and a right knee injury that forced him to retire against Juan Martin del Potro in the final four in New York.
Warming up for his season at an exhibition in Abu Dhabi, the Spaniard picked up a thigh strain that ruled him out of the Brisbane International.
His preparation for 2019 started later than usual, in mid-December, due to his physical problems, and he was unsure how well he would be able to perform at Melbourne Park.
The 17-time Grand Slam champion is no stranger to fighting back from injuries though, and his near-flawless run to the semifinals here – where he squares off with Greek sensation Stefanos Tsitsipas – is admirable, but not too surprising. He hasn’t lost a set through his opening five matches and has dropped serve just twice.