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Rafael Nadal has light in his eyes as he closes in on tennis history


Rafa Nadal is targeting a 21st grand slam title (Picture: Getty)

Rafa Nadal is the most glamorous figure featuring at the Australian Open.

Thirty-five years old and a little thinner on top than he used to be, he retains an abundance of stardust that others cannot match.

As soon as it was confirmed just before the event that Novak Djokovic would have to leave the country a light went on in Nadal’s eyes.

Now it is the Spaniard pursuing that record-breaking 21st grand-slam title and that is all the more remarkable considering just four months ago Rafa’s recovery from a foot operation was uncertain to the point that he wasn’t sure whether he would ever play tennis again.

His heart beats for victory and not just that, it’s victory in the right way.

Rafa will always reply to any criticism or disrespect and if an opponent has an issue he will respond.

After beating Denis Shapovalov the dynamic 22-year-old Canadian backed up what he said on court, namely that Nadal is treated different to others. In fact he said officials are corrupt — he will get fined for that.

Shapovalov is a quick player between points, forever moving and twitching and eager to drive the pace.

Nadal adjusts clothing, hair, headband, water bottles and even sometimes, notably, his underwear.

This is tremendously irritating for players who want to get on with it but frankly this is just handbags at dawn. What’s really irritating for Rafa’s opponents is he finds a way to beat them. After seeing Shapovalov fight back from two sets down many expected the momentum to continue. Shapovalov was flying, Nadal had taken a medical time out.

This was the time for the Canadian, now coached by Jamie Delgado — Andy Murray’s former man — to hit the court, to make no unforced mistakes.

Dennis Shapovalov complained Rafa Nadal receives preferential treatment (Picture: Getty)

Having only made five such errors in the fourth set the path to victory was visible to him. And yet he miscued completely in his first service game with two unforced errors and double faults, gifting a break of serve.

This was red meat to Rafa, who galloped into a 3-0 lead and didn’t look back. And there’s the difference between Nadal, his mates Novak and Roger, and everyone else.

After a five-set marathon like that it’s great news for Rafa that his 36th grand-slam semi-final against Matteo Berrettini will come after a three-day break rather than two.

I still think it’s a shame Novak is not in Melbourne to defend his singles title though. I would have loved to have seen him and Rafa slug it out for tennis history.

Marvellous Matteo has it all and I’m very envious

There is much to dislike about Matteo Berrettini if you are, as I am, envious.

Matteo Berrettini represents a dangerous opponent for Rafa Nadal (Picture: Getty)

This beautifully dressed 6ft 5in Italian part-time model and sports superstar (pictured) seems to have it all. I first noticed the effect he had on people a couple of years ago when he made the semi-finals of the US Open.

Female friends of mine took on a dreamy expression when he was interviewed after the match.

Suddenly, gay friends were texting to ask when he was playing again.

Berrettini has been spectacular on court in Melbourne so far, beating the young Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz in possibly the match of the tournament and then defeating Gael Monfils, again in five sets. During the interview afterwards when one spectator shouted a profanity to him, Matteo calmly suggested not everybody present that evening was a sports fan.

Cue more loving looks and longing stares. Like I said, there is much to dislike for the jealous.

He plays Rafa Nadal next, the Spaniard won their only match so far — that US Open semi-final in 2019. Nadal won easily but Berrettini is a far more rounded player now.


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