History at his mercy, Rafael Nadal is poised to take another mighty leap towards sporting immortality with victory over Stanislas Wawrinka in Sunday night’s Australian Open final.
A 13th win from as many meetings with the Swiss underdog and Nadal will join Rod Laver as only the second man in 45 years of professional tennis to capture all four grand slam singles titles at least twice.
But a second title at Rod Laver Arena, to go with his 2009 Open triumph, would set the world No.1 on a path to even greater spoils.
Already the reigning French Open and US Open champion, Nadal could set his sights on the most fabled feat of them all – a Laver-like grand slam sweep.
Laver remains the only man in the open era to reign in Melbourne, Paris, London and New York in a single season, having found tennis’s Holy Grail back in 1969.
If fellow left-hander Nadal can emulate the Queenslander, he will end 2014 alongside Roger Federer atop the all-time grand slam leaderboard.
A pipe dream at the best of times, such a prospect would have seemed unfathomable this time last year when Nadal missed the Australian Open amid seven months out of the sport battling chronic knee soreness.
“It’s just amazing for me,” Nadal said after humbling Federer in a semi-final masterclass on Friday night.
“For me, it’s a very important thing to start the season this way again, winning in Doha, now being in the final of Australia after missing this tournament last year.
“I’ve had very emotional moments in the Rod Laver Arena in the past, very emotional moments this year especially because it is the grand slam that I really had most problems in my career.”
Nadal skipped the 2006 Open with a foot problem, retired mid-quarter-final in 2010 with a knee injury, had his 2011 campaign curtailed by a hamstring strain as he edged to within three wins of a non-calendar-year grand slam sweep, and missed last year’s event through illness.
Little wonder the humble top seed is refusing to ponder even drawing level with Pete Sampras with 14 grand slam titles on Sunday night.
“First of all, it remains a very tough opponent in front of me, Wawrinka,” Nadal said.
“He played fantastic matches against Novak (Djokovic) and (Tomas) Berdych.
“He’s serving unbelievable. He’s hitting the ball very strong from the baseline. Very, very quick.
“I know it will be a very, very tough match. If I am not able to play my best, I think I will not have chances because he’s coming to this match with a lot of victories and playing great.”
Nadal, though, said something similar before burying Federer in straight sets and the Spaniard’s record over Switzerland’s new No.1 is even more ominous than his 23-10 domination of the player long considered the GOAT – greatest of all time.
Wawrinka has lost all 26 sets against Nadal stretching back to their first career encounter, in Melbourne in 2007.
“The record is not what I’m looking at,” Wawrinka said on Saturday. “That’s what is it against Rafa.
“I don’t care … before I beat Djokovic, it was the same. I was losing 13, 14 times before that.
“It’s more about playing Rafa. He’s the No.1, the best player. His game is quite tough for me, especially with my one-hand backhand.
“But I did some good match last year against him, a close one. I find few things that I will try tomorrow.
“I’m playing my best tennis here. Physically I’m ready.”