Rafael Nadal is barreling toward the U.S. Open with a full head of steam after winning his third Rogers Cup and taking home the top spot at the Western & Southern Open.
Not too long ago, many were wondering whether or not Nadal would make a comeback after knee issues and an embarrassing first-round exit at Wimbledon.
Now Nadal has quietly positioned himself as the No. 2 player in the world behind Novak Djokovic according to the official website of the ATP World Tour.
Nadal's recent play looks great. The 12-time Grand Slam champion appears to be on new legs and has won 10 matches in a row. Remember when hard courts bothered the Spaniard last year? He is 15-0 on them in 2013 with three title wins.
Not only that, he has already defeated Djokovic and rival Roger Federer this year. He enters Flushing Meadows as the No. 2 seed in the men's draw thanks to his No. 2 world ranking.
Despite the hot streak, Nadal is not a secure lock to win the tournament.
First and foremost, Nadal's worst Grand Slam tournament happens to be the U.S. Open. His winning percentage is lowest there in comparison to the other tournaments:
Part of Nadal's impressive run leading up to the U.S. Open is his victory at the French Open, which was essentially expected considering that is his best Grand Slam by a mile with eight titles. That is in no way meant to discredit his play there, but to point out that Nadal has blazed down this path before.
Outside of Nadal's up-and-down play, which saw his French Open momentum dashed slightly at Wimbledon before picking back up, the opposition is worth examining as well.
Djokovic is no slouch at Flushing Meadows as of late. He won the 2011 event and reached the final a year ago before falling victim to Andy Murray. Djokovic is world No. 1 for a reason and has the talent to stay with Nadal stroke for stroke.
The semifinals matchup between the two at the French Open on a clay surface is more than proof enough. The two fought through five sets in a match that took well over four hours. Nadal prevailed, but Djokovic came close.
Nadal leads the series between the two at 21-15, but even more impressively leads 7-3 at Grand Slams. As mentioned, Flushing Meadows has given Nadal issues in the past, as has Djokovic.
Then there is Federer, seeded seventh going into the tournament. Federer prefers hard courts, and a first-ever encounter between he and Nadal on said hard courts in New York could cause some serious issues for Nadal.
Murray is also in the hunt and should be considered the favorite after winning the event last year and following up with a win at Wimbledon this season. He is riding a bit of momentum as well and enters the tournament seeded No. 3.
Even names like John Isner and Juan Martin del Potro deserve a mention going into a tournament that features hard courts, which should be an obvious trend at this point. Players with big offense stand a good chance against Nadal simply because it is so hard on his body and play.
To say Nadal enters the U.S. Open as a lock simply based on statistics and recent play will prove erroneous. History says Nadal struggles in the event compared to others, and both Djokovic and Federer have serious chances at running the tournament, especially if they end up on opposite sides.
Nadal has looked good as of late—it would be foolish to contest that. But to say he is a lock dismisses the stellar play of others, the situation and history itself. Picking a lock to win the tournament, especially between Nadal and Djokovic, is impossible at this point.
Nadal may come away a winner at Flushing Meadows like he did in 2010, but he is certainly not a lock entering the U.S. Open.
Note: All stats courtesy of ATPWorldTour.com.
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