Forget the moniker "King of Clay" because the 2013 edition of Rafael Nadal is on a tear when it comes to hard courts.
At this time last year, Nadal was sitting around watching the U.S. Open due to his wobbly knee, but he appears to be back in top form.
After an embarrassing first-round exit at Wimbledon, Nadal has had a run of dominance, including title wins in Montreal and Cincinnati. He also notched a stunning win over American Ryan Harrison in straight sets in Round 1 of this year's U.S. Open, signaling that Nadal is poised to take home the title at Flushing Meadows.
The statistics speak for themselves. Nadal is on an unprecedented tear during a year in which many questioned his future in the sport due to his injury. ESPN.com has the impressive numbers of Nadal's comeback:
That's a perfect record on courts supposedly damaging to the body. Make no mistake, Nadal still has a tight grip on clay surfaces as well with a 38-2 record, but that's expected. Actually, it's boring at this point.
Nadal's play on hard courts is something to behold.
What's the reasoning for Nadal's elite play on hard courts after it appeared he was headed to the sidelines for good to rest his iffy knees after Wimbledon?
He's playing maybe the best tennis that he ever has played on hard courts. He has changed a little bit the game. He stepped in a little bit more. He knows that now he has to be a bit more aggressive than he usually is because of, I guess, his knees.
It's not his favorite surface; it's faster. I'm sure he worked on that and you could see all the work he put in [is] getting results.
That urgency and unusual aggressiveness by Nadal is what allowed him to hit a breathtaking and seemingly impossible shot against Harrison in their match:
The U.S. Open is difficult for any player, but especially for Nadal, who has struggled in the past at this major compared to the others. He holds an 81 percent winning percentage at the U.S. Open for his lowest mark among any of his Grand Slam winning percentages. Nadal last won at Flushing Meadows in 2010 during a jaw-dropping season that saw him win three Grand Slams.
The past two winners of the U.S. Open, Djokovic and Andy Murray, are no slouches, but Nadal has to be considered as the favorite at this point.
Nadal recently handled Djokovic in an aggressive manner at the Rogers Cup in a 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (2) win. He leads their rivalry 21-15 (including 7-3 in Grand Slams), and Nadal has scored more points this year than Djokovic, Murray and even Roger Federer.
Both Djokovic and Murray will be in contention once more. The former won it all in 2011 and both appeared in the final last year before Murray won. But it will be Nadal crashing the party in 2013.
At 27 years of age and once counted out, Nadal appears to be an unstoppable force right now. Not even the once-daunting hard courts have stopped Nadal, who has been rejuvenated through a more aggressive style of play in 2013.
That trend won't change at Flushing Meadows.
Follow B/R's Chris Roling on Twitter for more news and analysis @Chris_Roling
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