Rafael Nadal, the King of Clay, is heating up the DecoTurf this summer. With an undefeated 15-0 record on hard courts this year, Rafa has silenced many a critic who felt that post-injury, he would not go far on the fast courts of North America. This seemed to be reinforced by Rafa’s early exit from Wimbledon, grass being a high speed and low-bounce surface. With Rafa, always expect the unexpected. He’s won in Canada and Cincinnati back-to-back, only the fourth man to do so, and is ready to take on a third victory to seal off his monumental summer. Can he pull it off? Who are his biggest threats? We asked some of our favorite bloggers and sports writers. Here are their responses.
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Elena is the editor of the popular tennis website, The Slice. With a self-confessed “passion for tennis fashion, events, products and gear,” Elena will be working for the US Open this year, as she has in the past. Here is Elena’s take.
It feels weird to say Rafa’s having one of the best years of his career, but it would feel weird not to. Taking the time away from tennis last year to recuperate from injuries and coming back to win the way he’s been winning shows that he made the right decision to take those months off. He’s certainly silenced any critics who said he’d never be the same again. But I will say that I don’t think he’s the same – he’s better. He knows his body better than ever and his on-court tactics have definitely improved.
Going into the US Open, Rafa has a winning record against all players in the Top 30 and he won both Masters titles leading up to New York. So is he the favorite? I don’t like to pick favorites since there are so many factors to consider but I could definitely see Rafa winning the US Open this year.
His biggest threats are, of course, Djokovic and Murray. I believe those are the only two that can really challenge Rafa. The other threat is the court. I’m not a doctor but, to combat any knee issues, it’ll be very important to be well rested throughout the long tournament to increase the chance of being as fresh as possible in the end.
Win or lose, I’m so happy to see Rafa back and playing at this level. It’s such a delight to see and I can’t wait to see what he does in New York over the next two weeks!
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Fernando Grisolía is a sports journalist based in Argentina who writes for Tennis Extra. He keeps us duly updated about tennis in South America. Fer also covers other ATP events on a regular basis. His analysis has been translated from Spanish.
I think Rafael Nadal is one of the major contenders for the title at the U.S. Open. If his knee allows, as it did in tournaments this year, the Spaniard has great chances to win in New York, although I think he may not be the absolute favorite as he was at Roland Garros.
This season, he has been playing unbelievable tennis on hard courts, winning all the competitions in which he participated and reaching a sensational unbeaten [streak] on cement. The U.S. Open, being a Grand Slam, opens a few more possibilities among the top players at similar levels.
Today, the only ones capable of costing Nadal a match are Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. The prolonging [to] the 5 sets corresponds with an equal amount of training. I think those three are the main ones expected to remain [to the end] in the U.S. Open. Nadal comes with more confidence and that can place him a step above the rest, but I repeat, Djokovic and Murray should also be considered.
It will be between Rafa, Nole or Andy.
Follow Fernando Grisolía via Twitter @FerGrisolia for tennis news and analysis.
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Marianne Bevis is currently Chief Tennis Writer for The Sport Review. A member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists, she covers Grand Slams, Masters, WTFs, Laureus Awards and more as accredited press and contributing photographer. Marianne will be at the US Open, and has this to say:
This time last year, Rafael Nadal was nowhere to be seen. After Wimbledon, his knees forced him to withdraw first from the 2012 Olympics, then the US Open, the World Tour Finals, and everything in between. And just when he looked ready to return, illness took him out of the Australian Open, too.
By now No5 in the world for the first time since May 2005, Rafa finally made it back—opting for his beloved clay in South America—and the rest of the year has been nothing short of extraordinary.
A full year on, and Rafa will not only make a welcome return to Flushing Meadows, but he will arrive as the No2 seed and the most prolific winner of the year, despite missing that first month: 12 tournaments, 11 finals, nine titles, five Masters—three of them on American hard courts—and a record eighth French Open.
His back-to-back titles in Montreal and Cincinnati have also sealed his place at the top of the US Open Series Bonus Challenge, so should he lift his second US trophy, he will earn a record $3.6 million. As for the points, with none to defend this year, a win would take him tantalizingly close to that year-end No1. Yes, extraordinary is an understatement.
It’s easy to forget that he has rocketed through his 53 wins against some of the best players ever to lift a racket. Three times he beat Roger Federer, twice on hard courts, and twice he has beaten world No1 Novak Djokovic, conceding one of only three 2013 losses to the Serb in Monte Carlo.
And watching him in action this year—on Rome’s clay, on Montreal’s hard blue, and even on Wimbledon’s grass—one is struck afresh by his vitality, his athleticism, his speed and balance, his fighting spirit.
I’ve tried, over the years, to capture his achievements in words, but many of these intangibles shine more clearly through the lens. So serious and determined in battle—that scowl, that furrowed brow, that explosion onto the ball—and so quietly modest and increasingly eloquent off court—his face in constant expressive motion.
Can he do what seemed impossible this time last year, and once more conquer New York? On the evidence of the last couple of weeks, yes he can. What has particularly impressed me about his comeback is the evolution in his tennis to counter the challenges that Djokovic and Andy Murray have thrown down: a terrific serve—which proved the equal of John Isner’s—plus top-notch net skills and overheads, and above all, the aggressive tactics to step inside the baseline and make the most of those freshly-tuned skills.
Much may depend on his draw, since it is possible for Roger to fall in his quarter and Andy into his half before he has a chance at the title match against Novak—and such a run would be a big ask. Equally, though, he could see both rivals drawn in the top half.
Until Montreal and Cincy, he certainly wasn’t favourite to win in New York—and many will still tip Novak or Andy—but it would be a foolish or ill-informed pundit who did not now consider Rafa a genuine contender.
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Stay tuned for Part 2, where more of our favorites weigh in on Rafa’s chances in New York next week. UPDATED: Part 2