The first Grand Slam of the year is set to pick the 2018 winner on Sunday as the men's singles event has reached the last four stages. For the 2009 titlist and last year's runner-up Rafael Nadal, another disappointing outcome emerged with the Spaniard having a hard pill to swallow during his confrontation with Marin Cilic. Claiming the third set at the end of a tight tie-break seemed to have opened the doors wide open for Nadal but the joy didn't last long. Somewhere along the fourth set, Nadal's right hip muscle caved which eventually forced him to call it a day.

As a consolation prize, reaching the last eight stages ensured Nadal will keep the No. 1 seat regardless of the final outcome. At this point, a Roger Federer success seems likely to happen and it will put the Swiss behind the Spaniard in the ranking.

Rafael Nadal got away with an easy injury

Speaking during the press conference that followed the match, Rafael Nadal expressed his disappointment of him having had so many injuries throughout his career. According to ESPN, the injury represents a minor risk, but it did stop Nadal from pursuing a second title bid at the Australian Open.

It also seems that the issue won't keep Nadal away from the tennis courts for too long. Two weeks from now he is expected to resume practice while an official comeback is set for the ATP 500 event in Acapulco, Mexico.

Last year, the 31-year-old was a runner-up, losing to Sam Querrey in the final. That would be all for February while for March Nadal is set to play the Sunshine Double and maybe to get that elusive title in Miami. After that, the entire ATP pack will travel to Europe for the spring Clay Court festival. Three Masters 1000 on the European dirt and the French Open are places where Nadal is the almighty ruler.

Nadal should start adjusting his schedule

ATP top players who are past the 30 years of age milestone are starting to implement a more cautious scheduling. Federer was the first one to go on with this approach. Now, after having hip surgery Andy Murray declared his intentions to follow a similar strategy. Being a top player for almost fifteen years takes a huge toll.

The most common expression of the trade-off has been represented by injuries. Each time, Nadal managed to bounce back, so, it will be interesting to watch and see if Nadal can preserve his status, especially during the 2018 clay court swing.

There is also the possibility that those long grueling grinds on clay from the past have played a crucial part in Rafael Nadal's apparent fragility.