Rafael Nadal plays Bernard Tomic in the first round of the Australian Open, 2014. He is in a tough half this year with many celebrities vying for honours in the top half of the draw. Tomic would have preferred a different opponent in the first round. Nadal has started the new season with a maiden victory at
earlier this month, which is also the first time in his career that he has won his
Nadal played well up to the U.S. Open, but has not played that great thereafter. He did not look sharp at
Doha, though he
lifted the trophy at the expense of Gael Monfils. If one were to compare Tomic
as an opponent to Nadal with Monfils, there is a match up issue. Monfils
suddenly shifted to the aggressive mode at the beginning of the second set and
won that set, though aggression is not his instinct. Tomic too is a naturally
defensive player, who finds aggression alien to his natural instinct. Nadal sometimes
finds it difficult to negotiate those players who move fast, who bash the ball
but with reasonable consistency, and who are not intimidated by him. Tomic does
possess the third characteristic, but has to play with the other two qualities
too. Nadal not being that great a returner of serve, Tomic can land more aces.
He is likely to serve wide to Nadal’s backhand from the deuce court and try to
execute one-two combination to the other corner. The fact is that he does not annihilate
opponents with one-two combinations in the mould of Roger Federer, Nadal or Novak
Djokovic. He develops his strategy working into the match, without many
pre-meditated ideas. He might have some match up problems with the style of
David Ferrer, but Nadal has shifted from being a pure grinder trying to put one
more ball into play. Djokovic draws Nadal into errors, but he is a better
mover, a better court opener, and a better attacker than Tomic.
Nadal may try both strategies with Tomic, first trying to outlast him in rallies, and if that does not work out, changing into aggressive mode by playing closer to the baseline. Tomic lost to Nadal in the third round in straight sets in the same tournament in 2011. He knows how to play Nadal, but can he execute it on court? He will have the backing of a massive crowd. He is not a Lleyton Hewitt, but he is no Samantha Stosur either. Nadal is not immune to early round upsets, but Tomic can step into the shoes of a Steve Darcis more than into those of Lukas Rosol. Nadal has started trying to keep the points a bit shorter and he would definitely like to do that in a first round match of a Grand Slam event. Tomic can frustrate him in the same mould as David Ferrer does it on the hard courts. However, when it comes to the crunch, Nadal can succeed in containing unforced errors by clicking the survival mode.
Nadal is the favourite but Tomic is not without a chance if he plays well or Nadal plays badly.