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Australian Open: Spanish legend Rafa Nadal one ahead in Grand Slam battle

By winning the 2022 Australian Open, Rafael Nadal pulled one clear of his great rivals Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in their lengthy battle to become the most decorated men's singles Grand Slam champion of all-time.

Nadal, who had won just one previous title in Melbourne, came from two sets down to defeat reigning US Open champion Daniil Medvedev in the Aussie Open final, taking his career tally to 21 Grand Slam titles.

He would forge two ahead by claiming his beloved French Open in June, winning in Paris for the 14th time to pick up Grand Slam number 22, although Djokovic would quickly halve the deficit when he claimed the Wimbledon title a month later.

In October, the big three became the big two when Federer announced his retirement, paving the way for Djokovic and Nadal to go head-to-head for tennis immortality.

With the 2023 Australian Open on the horizon, the odds suggest that Djokovic has a serious chance of levelling the score - the Serb is 11/10 to win in Melbourne for a tenth time, while Nadal is on offer at 12/1.

What: 2023 Australian Open
Where: Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia
When: Monday 16th January - Sunday 29th January, 2023
How to watch: Discovery+, bet365 Sports Live Streaming
Odds: Novak Djokovic 11/10, Carlos Alcaraz 11/2, Daniil Medvedev 7/1, Nick Kyrgios 10/1, Rafael Nadal 12/1

Nadal up against it in Australia

Write him off at your peril, but Nadal's quest to win a 23rd Grand Slam title could well extend beyond the Australian Open, not just because of his own advancing years but also because of increased competition from a brigade of exciting younger players.

At 35, Djokovic remains the man to beat on hard courts but both he and 36-year-old Nadal, a finalist in 2012, 2014, 2017 and 2019 as well as a champion in Melbourne in 2009 and 2022, must now also contend with another Spaniard, Carlos Alcaraz.

US Open champion Alcaraz, who finished 2022 as the ATP Tour number one, is among a number of young guns who could cause problems for Nadal, with the youngster 2/1 to win one Grand Slam title in 2023.

Felix Auger-Aliassime and Jannik Sinner both boast plenty of potential while experienced campaigners Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev would expect to go toe-to-toe with Nadal on a hard court, with Nick Kyrgios another who is seldom fazed by reputation.

Nadal began his 2023 season with a three-set loss to Britain's Cameron Norrie at the United Cup on Saturday, and there has to be concerns that he's not quite up to speed following an injury-hit second half of the 2022 campaign.

Paris remains Nadal's most likely route to the record

With a Melbourne repeat looking unlikely, Nadal's best chance of further Grand Slam glory must surely come at the 2023 French Open, where he is rated a 5/2 shot to claim the Paris title for an incredible 15th time.

Clay remains Nadal's best surface, as illustrated by a 97 per cent French Open win rate, and while both Alcaraz and Djokovic are considered more likely to win the title, that was also the case in 2022, when the King of Clay was sent off at 4/1 before the tournament and still got the job done.

That victory came despite an interrupted preparation as well as a foot injury which required a number of pain-numbing injections throughout the tournament, offering further proof that Nadal is a French Open threat even when he's not at his best physically.

If his preparation is more clear-cut this time around - a big if given his chronic foot problems - then Nadal could still be the one to beat in Paris, as he demonstrated when beating Djokovic as an underdog in last season's clash.

Remainder of campaign dependant on fitness

After the French Open, Nadal's prospects of more Grand Slam success will almost certainly depend on his fitness in his second half of the campaign.

The Mallorcan reached the semi-finals of Wimbledon last season but was forced to withdraw prior to the semi-finals with an abdominal problem and the same issue blighted him in the build-up to a US Open campaign in which he was only able to make the fourth round.

He is 8/1 to win Wimbledon for the third time, despite not appearing in a final on the London grass since 2011, and there are no guarantees he will play at all if the clay-court season takes a significant toll on his body.

Nadal won the US Open in 2017 and 2019 but was absent in 2020 and 2021 before hobbling his way through three matches in the most recent edition.

He is 9/1 to win the New York title but, once again, the same doubts persist about his participation.

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