Rafael Nadal’s true medium is clay. For the past seven seasons, only the Majorcan truly mastered the surface.
No one wielding a tennis racket came close to equaling or besting Nadal on the red dirt.
On the other Grand Slam court surfaces, however, Nadal does not stand uniquely alone at the top.
He is no better on grass or on hard courts than a handful of other top-ranked players.
Because Nadal had ambitions to be the best tennis player in the world, he learned to transfer his natural talent honed on clay to winning on grass courts and finally on the artificial surfaces.
In 2008, Nadal achieved his goal to become the top-ranked player in the world. Then again in 2010, he became the youngest male ever to win a career Grand Slam when he finally won the US Open.
He added to that honor since he had won the gold medal in 2008 in Beijing, holding a "golden" career Grand Slam.
But it cost Nadal.
His aggressive style of play central to winning on clay was difficult to sustain on the harder surfaces. His knees, assaulted by constant pounding, stopping and starting, weakened. Tendinitis has become a persistent problem.
Yet, Nadal is a fixture in the game—a crowd favorite. His personality is as unique as his style of play.
The US Open will just not be the same this year.