This Australian Open belonged to Roger Federer and Serena Williams, both of whom won the tournament and further cemented their statuses as the greatest players of all time.
But Rafael Nadal, who lost a five-set heartbreaker to Federer in the final, came away a winner, too. No, he didn’t take home a championship trophy to show for it. What he did earn, however, was a seat back at the Grand Slam contender table.
Nadal, who had last reached a Grand Slam final in 2014—when he won the French Open—proved that he can still beat the best in the world on a consistent basis and get stronger as a fortnight continues.
After an injury-plagued 2016 in which the Spaniard lost 14 matches, had to pull out of two majors and saw his ranking nearly fall out of the Top 10, many began to wonder—understandably so—if we were witnessing the beginning of the end of the 14-time Grand Slam champion.
Was his physical style of play finally catching up to him? Was it just a matter of time before his body, having endured so many grueling marathons over the years, finally broke down? At 30 years old, was he officially past his prime and on borrowed time? Could he stay on the court, at a high level, for a substantial period of time?
Simply put, did he still have what it takes to win a major, to return to the Top 5 and stay there?