Believe it or not, there was once a time when Rafael Nadal wasn't considered among tennis' all-time greats, rather seen as an athletic stud who was unbeatable on clay.
Now, having won 13 Grand Slam titles, including two on the hard courts at the U.S. Open, Nadal has maximized on his potential. No longer seen as only the King of Clay, Rafa has conquered every surface and won all there is to win, including an Olympic gold medal.
And more importantly for tennis fans, his flawless 22-0 hard-court record in 2013 suggests that he'll be competing at the sport's highest level and winning majors for several more years to come.
While a year ago Nadal's future appeared to be in serious jeopardy because of nagging knee issues, he's returned with tremendous purpose in 2013, winning a career-best nine titles, including two majors at the French Open and most recently the U.S. Open.
Although Nadal was nearly untouchable in 2010, winning three of the season's four majors, 2013 has been an unforgettable season for the 27-year-old Spaniard and his fans given what he's had to battle back from.
Nadal is 59-3 on the year and has racked up more than $8.1 million in prize money. On top of that, he's now 3-1 against Novak Djokovic, who has held down the No. 1 ranking since the year began, and 3-0 against Roger Federer, his long-time rival who is also widely regarded as the greatest player of all time.
But that's certainly up for debate considering that Nadal has beaten Federer 21 times in 31 career meetings.
Rafa has yet to face Andy Murray in 2013, but leads the overall head-to-head with the two-time major winner 13-5.
More importantly, though, following his four-set win in the 2013 U.S. Open final, Nadal is now 22-15 against his most challenging rival in Djokovic, having won six of their last seven matchups.
Who will be the player to beat in men's tennis in 2014?
Nadal's recent success against Djokovic, especially on hard courts, bodes well for his chances in 2014 and down the road. For years now, the top-ranked Serb has been considered the best all-round player in the game, and without a doubt the most dominant hard-court performer.
With Rafa having beaten him in two straight hard-court showdowns—including in a best-of-five-sets final at the U.S. Open—the pressure is now on Djokovic to make this a rivalry again.
For years the U.S. Open was the most elusive Grand Slam for Nadal. He first won it on his eighth try in 2010 to complete the career Grand Slam. Three years later, he's proved that his hard-court dominance was no fluke and that he's still the player to beat in 2014 and beyond.
Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter.