Rafael Nadal is on a roll - a near career-best roll.
The 21-time Grand Slam champion beat Denis Kudla in his opening match of the Mexican Open on Tuesday to equal his best-ever start to a season. With victory at the Melbourne Summer Set and Australian Open, Nadal is now 11-0 for the year.
He also won 11 matches in a row to start the 2014 season before losing to Stan Wawrinka in the Australian Open final.
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He has the chance to set a new personal best when he faces Stefan Kozlov in the second round in Acapulco.
“The start of the year has been infinitely better than I could ever have imagined,” said Nadal ahead of the tournament.
“Winning in Australia was deeply satisfying. Not so much because of reaching 21 Grand Slams, but because it came at a very difficult time for me.”
Nadal was doubtful to even compete at the Australian Open after testing positive for Covid-19 earlier in the year. He was also returning from a foot injury that kept him out for the last five months of 2021.
But he showed no signs of rust in Melbourne and again looked sharp in his opener in Acapulco as he beat Kudla 6-3 6-2. Nadal dropped just four points on serve in the match and is now 21-2 at the tournament, having won the title in 2005 and 2013. All 21 of his wins have been in straight sets.
“Feeling competitive in Australia and seeing that my foot held up, even playing five hours in one day, drives me to keep playing and it gives me the energy to carry on,” said Nadal.
“When I was 23, I thought I wouldn’t be playing at 29. When I was 29, I thought at 33 I wouldn’t be where I was. But for now, I’m still here, and that’s really wonderful.”

How did Nadal do in 2014?

The last time that Nadal went 11-0 to start the season he ended the year with four titles to his name and as world No. 3.
After missing out in the Australian Open final to Wawrinka, he won clay titles in Rio de Janeiro and Madrid before beating Novak Djokovic in the French Open final. He also made the final of the Miami Open and Italian Open, losing both times to Djokovic.
This is Nadal’s first tournament as the man with the most majors in history after he moved one ahead of Djokovic and Roger Federer in the all-time standings at the Australian Open.

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Asked about the current status of the GOAT debate, Nadal said: “I think at the end of the day it’s a question of opinion. There are various arguments that could give that moniker to any of us, and all those arguments are valid. It depends where you look.
“The reality is that all three of us have done much more than we could have dreamed. And from there, let the experts talk about it and we’ll focus on playing.”

Who does Nadal play next?

Nadal and his next opponent will be plenty familiar with each other after they practised together earlier in the week.
It was during the practice session that Kozlov got the call to say he was going to play in the tournament as a lucky loser, replacing Maxime Cressy, who was a last-minute withdrawal. Not only did Kozlov have to cut short his hit with Nadal, but he had to find some clean clothes to play in, having spent some of the day stranded at sea.
“I wasn’t expecting to play, at all,” Kozlov told the ATP.
“Two guys had already dropped out of the tournament, I didn’t think there would be a third lucky loser. That’s why I was on the beach all day. Also, I had a slight problem with a jet ski. I capsized it and crashed into some rocks. So I was stranded out there for 30 minutes, just swimming to get away from the rocks.
“After being rescued [by the jet ski manager], I was expecting an intense practice session with Rafa at six o’clock.

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“All of my clothes were wet because they were at the laundry…I went as quickly as I could to prepare as well as possible. And I had to borrow clothes from the staff, as many clothes as I could get my hands on to be able to play because I didn’t have anything that was dry.”
The winner of the clash between Kozlov and Nadal will next face either Dusan Lajovic or Tommy Paul. Nadal could face a rematch with Australian Open final opponent Daniil Medvedev in the semi-finals.
Medvedev is bidding to replace Djokovic as world No. 1 this week and will do so if he wins the title.
Nadal could move up to world No. 4 with a deep run in Acapulco, depending how Stefanos Tsitsipas fares at the tournament. Tsitsipas earned his 200th tour-level win as he beat Laslo Djere 7-6(7) 7-6(4) to reach the second round. He next faces American qualifier JJ Wolf after he saved a match point in a 3-6 7-6(7) 6-2 win over Lorenzo Sonego.

When is Nadal playing next?

The next tournament on the calendar after the Mexican Open is the first ATP 1000 of the season at Indian Wells, which starts on March 10.
Nadal is a three-time champion at the tournament but hasn’t won there since 2013. Whether he plays the Miami Open after Indian Wells may depend on how he fares in the former.
Nadal has never won in Miami and has not played there since 2017. He may opt to skip the event in order to ensure he is in the best physical shape for the clay season.
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