For a man renowned for his dominance on clay courts, Rafael Nadal has proved equally fierce on the hard courts in a trend that should persist through the 2013 U.S. Open.
Nadal has earned his reputation as a cold-blooded assassin on clay, winning eight French Open titles in nine years. But what happens when the King of Clay doesn't lose on any pavement?
This season, the Spaniard is 17-0 on hard courts, including two decisive victories to kick off the U.S. Open. He handled 21-year-old American Ryan Harrison in three sets before demolishing Rogerio Dutra Silva in a 6-2, 6-1, 6-0 second-round victory.
After missing seven months recovering from a knee injury, Nadal now looks stronger than ever, showing a renewed jolt to his step that has enabled him to master the fastened pace of hard courts. His fantastic shot against Harrison perfectly encapsulated his craftiness and became an instant gem for the highlight reels.
Nadal could encounter his first challenge at Flushing Meadows when he faces Ivan Dodig on Saturday afternoon in the Open's third round. Dodig, who topped Nadal in Montreal two years ago, features a swift serve that will test Nadal.
Some quicker opponents such as John Isner and Roger Federer could also stand in his way down the bracket, so it's a good thing Nadal has fended through his initial competitors without working up much of a sweat.
His latest hard-court success is no mere coincidence, but a concerted effort to fix a hole in his repertoire. The savvy defensive star has upped his aggression on the attack, playing near the baselines and trying to keep points more succinct. Tom Perrotta of The Wall Street Journal likened it to an aging pitcher throwing more fastballs.
That may yield unfortunate results for a hurler with decreased velocity, but the 27-year-old still has plenty left in the tank.
To be fair, it's not like Nadal was ever truly horrible on the hard courts. He has picked up one championship in both the U.S. Open and Australian Open, and his last appearance in each event ended in a finals loss to Novak Djokovic.
Losing to a fellow titan of tennis is not a sign of weakness but an ode to his adversary's awesomeness. Djokovic will be no easy out this time around, but the way Nadal is going, another finals showdown is waiting on the horizon.