By Martyn Herman
(Reuters) – Matching Roger Federer’s record Grand Slam haul will act as huge motivation for Rafael Nadal going into this month’s Australian Open, according to his fellow Spaniard Alex Corretja.
Nadal added two Grand Slam titles to his total last year to move to 19, one behind his Swiss rival, and at the age of 33 looks as hungry as ever to add to his tally.
The Mallorcan reached the final in Melbourne last year, losing to Serbian Novak Djokovic who is third on the all-time list with 16 and who will be many people’s favorite to maintain his domination of the Australian Open as he has triumphed seven times at Melbourne Park.
While Nadal is never one to talk up the prospect of overtaking Federer, Corretja says the fact he has closed to within one for the first time in his career is significant.
“It’s a huge motivation for him I’m sure,” former world number two Corretja, who will be part of broadcaster Eurosport’s team of analysts in Melbourne, told Reuters on Tuesday.
“He is…. so humble … (that) he’s (probably) not even thinking of the future.
“But I’m sure in the back of his mind he knows that now he has a great chance this year and in the next four Slams to tie Roger and even go ahead of him.”
Nadal suffered with injury problems and a loss of form and confidence after last year’s Australian Open, but has hit back with a vengeance and, according to Corretja, has another three years in which he can win Grand Slam titles.
“Last year he won two Slams, reached the finals in Australia and semis in Wimbledon, that means he is going to be knocking on the door for next two or three years for sure,” he said.
“I’m sure he will tie Roger and once he does that he will pass him. But then you could can never say Roger will not win another one. But I think Rafa is ready to pass Roger. He and Djokovic can both go into the 20s.”
Nadal has been warming up for the Australian Open playing for Spain at the ATP Cup, winning both his singles matches so far with ease — maintaining the form that saw him lead his country to the Davis Cup title in November.
“From what I’ve seen he is in unbelievable shape and if he’s healthy for Melbourne it will be very difficult to beat him,” Corretja said. “He’s playing very aggressive. He and Novak are the guys to beat for sure.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar)