We conclude the second half of this article by asking the same questions we did in Part 1 to three more of our favorite sports writers: Can Rafa win the US Open this year? Who are his biggest threats? Read their responses.
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Lisa-Marie Burrows works at Eurosports. She is broadcast journalist, a member of the International Press Association and a journalist for its online magazine, IMPress. She writes for several leading tennis websites, and has traveled through Europe to cover various tennis events. Lisa-Marie’s take on Rafa:
After a marvellous summer hard court campaign, I feel that the men’s champion will be Rafael Nadal. He is in good form after winning back-to-back Masters titles in Montreal and Cincinnati and he is oozing with confidence. He will have tough challenges en route to the final with John Isner and Roger Federer to contend with, but the world number two, who is climbing back up the rankings, looks physically and mentally solid. In that form, he will be incredibly difficult to beat.
His draw has thrown in some challenges, opening up against home crowd hopeful Ryan Harrison in the first round. Nadal will be playing against him and possibly a very loyal crowd. Should the 12-time Grand Slam champion surpass the two American’s, an exciting quarter final is looming against Roger Federer, which would be their 32nd career meeting.
It has been three years since Nadal won the US Open and I think it will be his turn to once again rekindle the magic and lift the trophy for the second time.
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Amy Fetheroff, co-founder of the popular tennis blog The Changeover, is a webmaster and social media professional living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She is partial to flat hitting and in-depth tennis stats. In her spare time, she watches a ton of hockey and plays as much tennis as possible.
Rafael Nadal looks to be in peak form to try and add another US Open title to his list of accomplishments. The World No. 2 has racked up an impressive three hard court Masters 1000 titles in Indian Wells, Montreal, and Cincinnati, and is undefeated on the surface in 2013 (16-0).
When Nadal came back from missing more than half a year from the ATP Tour, expectations were low for him on hard courts. Many predicted he would pursue a lighter schedule on that surface so he could focus on breaking more records on clay. Hardly anyone could have predicted such success for him on his most relatively weak surface. But sure enough, Nadal has rightfully earned the status as a US Open favorite going into the final Grand Slam tournament of the year.
Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are Rafa’s biggest threats at the US Open, but Juan Martin del Potro is another player who’s been in impressive form lately, and on some occasions (like 2009), has enjoyed some success against Rafa. But if Rafa is able to play the way he has on hard courts so far this year, he will be successful in Flushing Meadows.
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Kevin Ware is a tennis-obsessed web designer in San Francisco, a 4.0 member of the GLTF, a certified USTA roving umpire, and founder of his blog. He also covers various events for Tennis Panorama.
Rafa Nadal is, undeniably, the man to beat coming into this year’s US Open.
He’s 53-3 on the year with 9 titles, and additional appearances in 2 other finals. He’s won 5 Masters Series titles, 3 of them on hard courts at Indian Wells, Montreal, and Cincinnati. The last two represent the rare summer double that’s only been done three other times, and not since 2003.
Moreover, Rafa looks poised to – fingers crossed – earn enough points to eventually end the year in the top spot ahead of Novak Djokovic.
That said, this year’s US Open is going to be a tough task for the Spaniard. He’s already defied the odds with his superhuman results upon a return to the tour from a 7-month injury hiatus, but winning a second title in New York simply isn’t realistic from this particular hard court Slam.
The “best of five” format isn’t necessarily the issue, because Rafa’s one of the best at grinding down his opponents over the course of a 3-5 set match. This is especially true on clay, where his natural affinity for movement on the surface allows him tactical options that few can overcome point after point, and set after set.
Hard courts are an altogether different animal. Rafa’s an excellent athlete, so he’s always going to do well no matter the surface. But his style of play requires more from his legs on hard courts, and generally exacts a greater toll on his knees. Even if he’s successful at grinding his opponents, he’s wearing out his own legs over the long haul.
The Australian Open isn’t as tough for Rafa because he goes into it fairly fresh, and then takes an extended break afterward. The effects aren’t cumulative. But that’s not the case with the US Open, and its’ late summer placement on the calendar. So Rafa does his best to schedule accordingly.
He played Indian Wells, but skipped Miami in order to rest his knees before the start of the clay season. After winning in Montreal, many were surprised that Rafa decided to play Cincinnati instead of giving his knees an additional week of rest. Perhaps he (rightly) figured that the additional match practice and ranking points gained were too good to pass up.
The gamble paid off. Rafa tested himself against the best, played exceptional tennis on the big points, and picked up 1000 ranking points and a nice chunk of change. However, I couldn’t help but notice some worrisome off-court maneuverings; like taking the stairs one at a time up to the podium for his post-match press conferences.
That’s not what you want to see from the US Open frontrunner ahead of a tournament that’s notorious for tough conditions, and a knack for rain that, in previous years, has led Rafa to play on consecutive days in the later rounds.
There’s also the issue of Rafa’s tricky road to the finals. He could potentially play a third-round match against Verdasco, a fourth round match against Isner, a quarterfinal with Federer, a semifinal against Ferrer, and a final against either Murray or Djokovic.
Verdasco’s not the same man that played Rafa in a 5 hour/5 set semifinal loss at the 2009 Australian Open, but he can still make Rafa play a tough, physical match. Isner’s 7-6 7-6 loss to Rafa in the Cincy final came without a break of serve. Rafa also defeated Roger in Cincy, but only after a second set comeback.
The stakes get higher in the semis and final. Ferrer has beaten Rafa on hard courts in the 2011 Australian Open with aggressive play, Murray is the defending champion, and there’s always the ultimate challenge of beating Djokovic in a “best of five” final.
All of these matches could be problematic if the schedule gets backed up due to rain. And what about Janowicz  and Gulbis , the two legitimate dark horses in Rafa’s half of the draw? Like Isner, each has a game that’s big enough to take the outcome out of Rafa’s hands. (Whether or not they can get through for that match-up is a separate discussion.)
The particular opponent, however, isn’t as important as the fact that I can’t see him grinding through all of these tough matches and, in the end, feeling good enough physically to win against Andy or Novak.
I can’t tell you who WILL win the title, but I can tell you that it probably won’t be Rafa. He’ll gain points in his quest for the number one ranking, but that’s all. More than any one of his opponents, the grind of the Open will be his downfall.
But I’d love for him to prove me wrong!
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We seem to have a general consensus among our writers that Rafa is the man to beat this summer, but this will not be an easy victory for him. His threats include not only the usual players, but also fatigue from the past few weeks. For those of us that have witnessed Rafa’s incredible ability to dig his way out of a problem over the years, seen his undulating mental strength and focus, and his endurance, win or lose, Rafa has already won.