Rafael Nadal has won three of the last five Grand Slams and goes into the US Open as the defending champion.
Despite this record, he will find himself in the unfamiliar position of being seeded No. 2 in a Grand Slam tournament.
The Serb’s season has been imperiously good.
Rafa’s season has been hit and miss. He lost in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open to fellow Spaniard David Ferrer and won the French title in a fashion that was slightly less assured than fans have become accustomed to witnessing.
Injury problems at Wimbledon may have hampered his overall performance, but he was thoroughly outperformed by the “Djoker” in the final.
A disappointing performance at the Western & Southern Open last week has left Rafa a little ill-prepared for the US Open, but writing him off would be a huge mistake.
This slideshow will put forward 10 reasons why Rafa will fight against the odds and win the US Open.
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic is the in-form player of the year.
So far the Serbian joker has amassed a staggering 57 wins with only two defeats in 2011, collecting the Australian Open and Wimbledon titles in the process.
Djokovic thoroughly outperformed Nadal at this year’s Wimbledon final, and his only comprehensive defeat of the season came against Roger Federer at Roland Garros.
Since then, the joker has looked rusty at times but passed every test with distinction.
His loss to Andy Murray in the Cincinnati Masters final came by way of injury rather than being outplayed.
Down 3-0 in the second set of the final, Djokovic was forced to surrender the match to the Scot.
The injury will hinder Novak throughout the US Open. Not only does he have to beat his opponent, he also faces the daunting task of wrestling with his own body.
Djokovic could yet pull out of the tournament due to injury, and if he does not, Nadal is ruthless enough to exploit any weakness in the Serb’s game should they meet in the later stages.
The brilliance of the three top players in the men’s game, plus Andy Murray as a solid world No. 4, has created a chasm between the great and the good.
As such, and without being disrespectful to Nadal’s potential opponent, the Spaniard has a relatively routine draw. His earliest test is likely to come against compatriot David Ferrer in the quarterfinals.
If, as is expected, Nadal wins the all-Spanish clash, he will meet Andy Murray in the semifinals instead of the much trickier task Djokovic has in facing Roger Federer—should the draw go according to plan, that is.
If Nadal were to meet Roger Federer in the final, the Spaniard could rest assured that he has the game to beat the legendary Swiss superstar.
Federer will be remembered as the greatest player of his era, but Nadal has the better of the head-to-head record between the two titans of men’s tennis.
In 25 matches, Nadal has defeated Federer 17 times.
The Grand Slam record between the two is all the more favourable for Rafa. The Spaniard has won six of his eight finals against Federer.
Rafael Nadal has also been dominant against Andy Murray, a player who has to be regarded as a serious contender for the Grand Slam title.
It is a mystery as to why the Scot has failed to develop his game to a level that will bring him Grand Slam success. He has all of the assets needed to be a champion but has thus far failed to fulfil his potential.
Rafa has benefited from Murray’s failure to keep up with the top three male players. In 15 meetings between the two of them, Nadal has won 11 times.
That being said, Murray did beat Nadal in the semifinals of the 2008 US Open, which suggests victory against the Scot may not be as routine as the Spaniard would like it to be.
One of the key differences between a runner-up and champion is the latter’s ability to grind out results when he or she is not playing well.
This is true in all sports, especially tennis.
Despite winning at Roland Garros and reaching the finals at Wimbledon, Nadal has not looked like the same player he was last season. The fact of the matter is that he still gives himself opportunities to win.
Last week’s Western & Southern Open, however, does serve as a stark warning. The Spaniard was beaten in straight sets by American Mardy Fish. If Nadal does not improve his game, perhaps he may not be able to rely on his natural ability alone.
It goes without saying that Nadal knows how to win Grand Slam tournaments; however, until last year the Spaniard was unable to win the US Open.
Now that Rafa has broken his duck, the jinx may have been lifted.
Considering that there is no American athlete with a realistic chance of taking glory at the Open, US fans will focus their attention on an international player.
If there is one thing Americans love, it’s a fighter—a man who starts from nothing and works hard for his success. Nadal is an example of that. What’s more, he is a winner, and everyone loves a winner.
Having the support of the crowd is often downplayed. Perhaps top athletes such as Nadal are used to the roar that surrounds their every triumph, but to their opponents it can be an alienating experience.
If a lower-ranked competitor was to take the game to Nadal, the crowd will encourage the Spaniard despite the best efforts of his opponent. This could have a negative effect on his rival’s psychology.
As the slide title says, Rafa knows that his chances of finishing the season as the world No. 1 are slim to none.
Novak Djokovic has had a formidable and unprecedented season of success. At times the Serb has been unplayable.
That being said, Rafa will not want him to leave with all the glory. Novak already has two Grand Slams to Rafa’s single title in France and has amassed a seemingly unsurpassable points total for now.
In order for Rafa to save face and keep up with his rival, he needs to put on a strong performance at the US Open.
Rafa’s game is best suited to clay or grass, and this is reflected by his career statistics.
Nadal’s clay-court tally from a single event outweighs his tally from two different Grand Slam titles combined.
The Spaniard has won seven Roland Garros titles, compared to a total of two hard-court titles.
Of the top four players, he undoubtedly has the most unconventional hard-court game, but he has turned it into a successful one.
Prior his victory at the 2009 Australian Open, Rafa looked uncomfortable on the hard courts.
One of his biggest assets, the topspin forehand, dies a slow death on hard courts. This combined with a slow first serve and poor positioning behind the baseline makes him a sitting target for the more accomplished hard-court players.
These issues, however, are no longer as prevalent as they once were. Nadal is standing much closer to the baseline now, and more importantly, his forehand shots are much more aggressive than the graceful topspinners that he once played to no success.
The fact that he has won two Grand Slams and five Masters titles on hard surfaces suggests that the hard court is not as weak terrain as it should be for the Spaniard.
Rafa has shown time and time again that he is a fighter—perhaps the greatest fighter in the history of the men’s game. Perhaps.
The Spaniard wins points that he has no right to win; it is a seldom-seen sight to see him give up on a ball before the second bounce.
It is his determination and fighting attitude that rewarded him with his maiden Wimbledon title. Importantly, Rafa claimed it while Federer was still in his prime, making his achievement all the more noteworthy.
If Nadal can do this, there is no reason why he cannot surpass Djokovic.