The 2013 U.S. Open has been the most unpredictable Grand Slam event of the year. Favorites were eliminated early, unlikely candidates reached the semifinals and, when it was all said and done, we were left with Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal—funny how things work out.
Once the two meet in the U.S. Open men's final, Nadal will walk away with his 13th career Grand Slam title.
Nadal defeated Richard Gasquet 6-4, 7-6 (7-1), 6-2 in a semifinal that pushed the Spaniard to his limits. Nadal showed cracks in his armor for the first time all tournament, losing a service game and failing to convert manageable points.
In the end, Nadal walked away victorious, nonetheless.
Up next is the match that we've all been waiting for.
Nadal and Djokovic are rivals vying for the honor of being unanimously established as the best player in the world. While Nadal may have doubled Djokovic's Grand Slam title total, he's been on the sidelines nursing injuries as the Serbian star has made the leap to elite.
At the U.S. Open final, we'll finally get our answer as to who's ahead at this point in time. Don't be shocked to find out that it's Nadal.
When it comes to breaking an opponent's serve, few have ever been as proficient as Djokovic. That's been evident at the 2013 U.S. Open, where Djokovic leads all players with 38 break points won.
If anyone can overcome that greatness, however, it's Nadal.
Nadal is 21-15 against Djokovic in head-to-head meetings, winning five of their past six matches. That includes a hard-court clash at the Rogers Cup, where Nadal won 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7-2).
During that match, Nadal won 71.2 percent of his first-serve points, 57.1 percent of points on his second-serve and lost just three service games, per ATPWorldTour.com.
That's the key for Nadal, as he must hold service against Djokovic if he's to walk away with the victory. Djoker is too proficient with his own serve for Nadal to play catch-up, no matter how great of a player the Spaniard may be.
Fortunately, Nadal's serve has been magnificent during the U.S. Open.
Per USOpen.org, Nadal has won 79.6 percent of first-serve points during the 2013 U.S. Open and a tournament-best 64.5 percent on second serves. Prior to his semifinals clash against Richard Gasquet, Nadal hadn't been broken a single time.
Before fans jump the gun, consider it a case of Nadal being lucky to face his first break before facing Djokovic as opposed to while they play.
Playing at the Net
Knee injuries have kept Nadal on the sidelines, forcing him to miss the 2012 U.S. Open and 2013 Australian Open. Since reaching full health, Nadal has altered his game and begun catering to his strengths.
It all starts with Nadal's willingness to charge the net.
That was never more evident than during his win over Gasquet, when he converted 22 of 28 net approaches, per USOpen.org. Not only was he powerful with smashes and misdirection-type volleys, but Nadal was comfortable defending passing shots as well.
He'll need to employ that strategy against Djokovic.
What this approach enables Nadal to do is end points quickly and fight off break opportunities. Against Djokovic, who is outstanding while returning serves, that will allow Nadal to fight out of the situations that are unfavorable.
Once the skill-related strategies are out of the way, it all comes down to the most powerful trait Nadal possesses: his resolve.
When it comes to Nadal, there isn't much room for hyperbole, as even the most lofty words of praise are fitting. He's one of seven men to ever achieve the career Grand Slam and is one of two men to ever win the career Golden Slam.
The only other to achieve that feat is the legendary Andre Agassi.
What Nadal shares with Agassi isn't just a career Grand Slam and an Olympic gold medal, but pure, undeniable resolve. Both players won their share of events with unparalleled skill, but the true definition of their success has been their unwillingness to face defeat, fighting out of even the most unfavorable circumstances.
Unfortunately for the stat lovers, that's something that can't be measured.
This isn't an attempt to downplay Djokovic in any way or manner, but instead an acknowledgement of what has Nadal in a class of his own. Despite being just one year older than Nole, he owns six more Grand Slam titles and has been all but unstoppable when healthy.
A 2013 record of 59-3 with nine singles titles should put an end to any questions about that. If not, try the fact that he has more ATP Tour championships in 2013 than Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray combined.
At the men's final, expect Nadal to add another title to his total and become a two-time U.S. Open champion.