Back On Top, Nadal Eyes More Grand Slam Glory
At the start of the 2017 season, Rafael Nadal was clinging to a Top 10 position in the Emirates ATP Rankings at No. 9. Having concluded his 2016 campaign early due to a wrist injury, the state of the Spaniard's game was in question. Would he return to his top form? Could he contend for big titles again?
Nadal has since swept away those questions with authority, eliminating any doubts of his ability to reclaim his mantle atop the Emirates ATP Rankings. Eight months later, the Manacor native is putting the rest of the ATP World Tour on notice with vintage Nadal performances. Boasting the energy, passion and offensive onslaught that have seen him finish at year-end No. 1 on three occasions, the 31 year old surged past Juan Martin del Potro to book his spot in a fourth US Open final on Sunday.
As Nadal vies for his third title at Flushing Meadows, having previously lifted the trophy with victories over Novak Djokovic in both 2010 and 2013, he admits that it is his consistent play over the entire season that has enabled him to return to this elite level.
"I tell you, for me what is more important, more than winning Slams, is to be happy," said Nadal. "I am happy if I am healthy and if I feel competitive in most of the weeks that I am playing. That's what has happened this year. So I am very happy about what happened, very happy to win Monte-Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid and Roland Garros. I am very happy to be in the final here in the US Open.
"Of course winning or losing this final is a big change, but I am very happy about all the things that happened to me and I am going to fight to win another title here. Still it is a great season for me. If I win, I will be more happy but it is about being healthy and feeling well and competitive. That's already happened in the whole season. So that's the most important thing for me."
Should Nadal prevail on Sunday, it would mark the first time in his career in which he has rallied from a set down in three matches en route to a title. He has battled hard throughout the fortnight, coming back to overcome Taro Daniel in the second round, Leonardo Mayer in the third round and del Potro in the semi-finals.
The last obstacle in Nadal's path: South Africa's Kevin Anderson. The top seed leads the FedEx ATP Head2Head 4-0, dropping just one set, and is keen to continue his positive momentum in Sunday's championship. They most recently met in the third round of the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell in April, which Nadal claimed 6-3, 6-4.
He would go on to take the title in Barcelona, his second of four victories this year. Having opened the season with runner-up finishes on the hard courts of the Australian Open, Acapulco and ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event in Miami, Nadal has since reeled off four straight wins in title matches, adding trophies in Monte-Carlo, Madrid and Roland Garros to his triumph in Barcelona. He is leading the pack in the Emirates ATP Race To London, surging to a 1,000-point advantage over Federer.
Open Era US Open Title Leaders
||5||1974, 1976, 1978, 1982-83
||5||1990, 1993, 1995-96, 2002
||3?||2010, 2013, 2017?
Having lifted an unprecedented 10th trophy at Roland Garros in June, he will look to further cement himself in Grand Slam immortality. Currently with 15 Grand Slam titles, a win in New York would put him three behind Roger Federer for the all-time lead titles lead. It has been a long, but fruitful, journey.
"I felt when I arrived in Australia that I was playing at a very high level, but then you need to win matches. I was playing well, but then you need to do it in the competition. Of course if you practise well and you feel well, you have more chances to win matches in the events, in the tournaments. It's about confidence.
"It's about things that when you are on court comes automatic. You don't have to think about what you are doing in some moments, the important moments. Things come straightaway without thinking that much, and all these things happen only when you are in a good moment, in a good way winning a lot of matches in a row.
"Now what remains in the last match is a very tough opponent and I need to be ready for it. It is a very important match for me, so I am going to try my best to play my best."