John McEnroe has described Rafael Nadal as one of the most phenomenal athletes of all time and a freak individual, but is concerned the 35-year-old's body could be a worry in his Australian Open semi-final with Matteo Berrettini.
Nadal has been in excellent form in what is his first Grand Slam since picking up an injury in last year’s French Open, but he was pushed to the limit by Denis Shapovalov in the quarter-finals.
Nadal required treatment for a stomach problem, and his camp revealed he lost a huge amount of weight during the gruelling five-set encounter.
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The schedule handed Nadal an extra day off between the quarters and semis. It could be seen as a blessing, but McEnroe feels the body can react strangely to having additional time off.
“I do remember one time in Australia in the quarter-finals where I had two days off between that match and I felt like I'd be rejuvenated and I went flat and the body didn't recover,” McEnroe said. “Sometimes when you have that extra day you let down a little bit mentally and then your body lets down.
“I don't think that Rafa will make that same mistake. He's still got a great team around him. It is possible at 35 that the body won't bounce back as quickly. So that remains to be seen.

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“I think in this case, you know, that probably was close to as much weight as Rafa has ever lost in a match. I think it's fairly normal that he loses a lot of weight when he plays. I've heard anywhere from six to eight pounds or three to four kilos. This seems even more than normal. So I'm sure that they were working right after the match to get fluids back in and I expect him to recognise this opportunity.”
Nadal has 20 majors to his name, but only one of those has come in Melbourne - way back in 2009. He arrived in Australia hopeful of contending, but McEnroe feels the Spaniard has come in under the radar.
“I don't think that in certain ways they expected that he'd be able to come right back and maybe win this thing,” McEnroe said. “Perhaps he was thinking of [Roger] Federer when he made the comeback five years ago and hadn't played for six months and won the Australian open. Try to duplicate that obviously with all the shenanigans and goings on with Novak [Djokovic] before the event, there wasn't a lot of talk about Rafa, so he's sort of gone in the back door a little bit. I think that's the way he likes it. He's like a humble champion in a way, he's a very confident player, but a humble guy. So this has worked out very well for him.”
Irrespective of whether Nadal goes on to claim a second Australian Open title, McEnroe has been hugely impressed with how he has bounced back from his foot injury.

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“I think we're sort of getting used to it when you want it as much as he has,” McEnroe said. “The times that he struggled in Australia, most of his losses have come when he's had some type of injury and maybe early in the year, maybe he's more susceptible to an injury, pushing it too hard.
“It seems like he's trying to change things a little bit, you know, not slide as much on the court, give away a few points, which you didn't see him do in the past and go bigger on second serves. I think that's all smart things to do at his age.
“He's one of the most phenomenal athletes we've ever seen on a tennis court. It would be sort of fitting in a way if he was able to come back and win this thing and be unbelievable and it be him that would have the record for the moment, at least at 21.
“I wish I knew more about recovery, recovery issues, whether it's on the training table, whether it's what you eat, the variety of things that players do, they get an ice bath now we used to you know, drink a beer, you know, that would relax our muscles and so they are much more advanced than what they do than in the past.
“But you know, he continues to amaze me, I mean Roger obviously did as well, Rafa these are freak individuals, unique champions all time greats.”
McEnroe is not surprised to see Nadal competing on the biggest stage again.
“I always expected him to come back,” McEnroe said. “I didn't know the severity of this foot issue. It's something apparently that he's been dealing with for 15 years. So if they've been able to manage that successfully for that long, it led me to believe that they were going to figure out a way to do it again.”
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