Mats Wilander has heaped praise on Rafael Nadal, and is still in disbelief about the Spaniard's start to the 2022 season. The former world number one is undefeated this year, and is currently 15-0 having won three titles.

The Swedish former tennis star pinpointed the one key trait that separates Nadal from his two great rivals Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. The Spanish world number four left his big three rivals behind in the Grand Slam title race by claiming an unprecedented 21st men's singles major title at the Australian Open in January this year.

Wilander feels Nadal's "emotion" is what keeps him apart from his "Big Three" rivals. The seven-time major champion applauded Nadal's thirst for winning, which he says seems like he is still a young player coming up on tour, and not the veteran that he is.

"Rafael Nadal's turning 36 during the French Open. He is closer to 16 years old than 36 years old, emotionally," Wilander said during a recent interview with Eurosport. "That is where he separates himself from the other Big-3, I should say."

The 57-year-old is hoping Nadal can carry on his phenomenal form throughout the season. Wilander admits that like Nadal, many were almost certain that it was impossible for the 35-year-old to make a successful comeback owing to his recurring foot injury.

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic
Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are on collision course in the French Open Thomas SAMSON/AFP

"It would be amazing if he could keep this up [after] we really thought last year that it was surely close to being the end of Rafa's career. He himself thought it could be the end of his career," Wilander added.

Nadal spent the second half of last season sidelined with a foot injury that rendered him unable to properly walk. The Spaniard returned to action in Melbourne earlier this year, and won the Summer Set. He then went on to claim the title at the Australian Open and then saw off Cameron Norrie to claim the Mexican Open title.

Wilander claims that it is more surprising that Nadal is looking so formidable during the hard court swing, rather than on clay, when he is generally expected to shine. The Spaniard has been installed as the favourite to claim the French Open following his heroics thus far.

"I would have never imagined, even though [I expected him to be] playing physically, in a million years that he would be doing what he is doing now. Not during this part of the year. Yes, [if we] move forwards a month and a half, when the clay court season has started, then we are back to Rafael Nadal, the ageless clay court king."

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal now has 21 Grand Slam titles after winning the 2022 Australian Open Martin KEEP/AFP