Spain's Rafael Nadal poses with his winning trophy after defeating South Africa's Kevin Anderson during their 2017 US Open Men's Singles final match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York on September 10, 2017. Rafael Nadal raced to a third US Open title and 16th Grand Slam crown on Sunday with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 rout of South African giant Kevin Anderson. / AFP PHOTO / DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)

With Novak Djokovic's withdrawal from the tournament, 35-year-old Rafael Nadal now enters the Australian Open as the only past champion in the men's draw.

With 20 grand slam titles under his belt, a record he shares with Djokovic and Roger Federer, Nadal now has the chance to claim the elusive 21st title for himself while his two rivals watch on from Europe.

However, the 'King of Clay' has only won the Australian Open once, with the majority of his grand slam titles (13) coming on the clay surface of the French Open.

Despite this, Nadal is seemingly looking comfortable on the fast Melbourne courts, cruising to his first title of the year at a lead up event at Melbourne Park. Nadal didn't drop a set on his way to the title, but also didn't face a player ranked within the top 50.

His first round match against American Marcos Giron, ranked 66th in the world, took just one hour and 49 minutes to be completed 6-1 6-4 6-2 .While last year at the Australian Open Nadal cruised to the quarterfinals before losing in five tight sets to Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Looking free of injury and in-form, this tournament may be the Spaniard's last chance to gain the upper hand on Djokovic, but his projected draw looks tough.

Following his defeat of Giron, Nadal will face either hometown hope Thanasi Kokkinakis or qualifier Yannick Hanfmann in the second round. Should he win, Nadal is projected to face Karen Khachanov in the third round. The current world number 30 would be Nadal's highest ranked opponent so far this summer, but the Russian has never made it past the third round at Melbourne Park before.

Nadal's projected fourth round opponents are Hubert Hurkacz or Aslan Karatsev, two in-form, top-20 players. Hurkacz, a rapidly developing young gun, performed exceptionally for Team Poland at the ATP Cup while Karatsev, the semi finalist in Melbourne last year, recently claimed the title at the Sydney International. The fourth round would require Nadal to produce some of his best tennis in months, should he succeed, more challenges await in the quarterfinal.

Heading into the second week, Alexander Zverev or Denis Shapovalov loom as Nadal's most likely opponents. Zverev, last years gold medalist in Tokyo, has been in impressive form and comes into Melbourne as one of the heavy favourites, while Shapovalov recently led Team Canada to their first win at the ATP Cup.

Should Nadal be able to do one better than his 2021 result and progress to the semi finals, Matteo Berrettini looks to be his most likely opponent. Berrettini, world number 7, performed well at the ATP Cup and dropped just one set in his first round win but the Italian has only made it to the final of a slam just once in his career.

Looking to the all important finals, the favourite going into the tournament, world number 2 Daniil Medvedev, is heavily expected to make an appearance on the last Sunday for the second year in a row. Medvedev, who won his first slam at the US Open last year, fell to Djokovic in Melbourne in 2021 but has gained valuable experience at the pointy end of tournaments since. If Nadal were to face him at the end, it would be a difficult fight.

Of course, grand slam tennis is unpredictable at the best of times, but regardless of results in other matches Nadal will have to play some of the best tennis of his career to claim the silverware in Melbourne. Having not played a grand slam since June's French Open and his body getting a much needed break, perhaps everything has perfectly aligned for Nadal to etch his name into the history books once more.