NEW YORK (AP) - Rafael Nadal wants a U.S. Open title, of course. It is, after all, the only Grand Slam trophy he has yet to win. Still, the No. 1-ranked and No. 1-seeded Nadal insists he is not consumed by thoughts of needing to leave Flushing Meadows with a championship two weeks from now.
“I hope I have another chance to play well here and to have the chance to win - but without obsession, no?” Nadal said. “I am more than happy (with) what I have at home, all the tournaments that I won. More than I dreamt five or six years ago.” Only 24 years old, Nadal already owns eight major titles: five at the French Open, two at Wimbledon and one at the Australian Open.
But he never has been past the semifinals at the U.S. Open, losing in that round each of the past two years. “If you can make it to the semis, you can make it to the finals. That’s pretty clear.”
“There’s not much he’s doing wrong,” said five-time U.S. Open champion Roger Federer, who is seeded second for the tournament beginning Monday.
The rivals have played each other 21 times, including in seven Grand Slam finals - at least once at each of the other three major tournaments. But Nadal and Federer never have met at the U.S. Open and, if they do square off in New York this year, it will have to be in the final. “Roger is always there,” Nadal noted.
That’s true: He’s participated in every U.S. Open men’s championship match since 2004. Nadal, meanwhile, lost in the second round in 2003 and ’04, in the third round in 2005, in the quarterfinals in 2006, and in the fourth round in ’07. Then came his semifinal exits against Andy Murray in 2008 and against eventual champion Juan Martin del Potro last year. In 2008, Nadal says now, he was mentally worn out when he got to the U.S. Open after a busy summer that included winning the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics.
Last year, he was physically spent, hampered in particular by an injured abdominal muscle. There are other reasons that Nadal, and others, recite when discussing why it is that the Spaniard has not joined Federer and the five other men who have completed a career Grand Slam. The U.S. Open, for one thing, comes toward the end of the season, by which time Nadal’s relentless style of play often leaves him relatively beat up.
Plus, joints take a particular pounding on the unforgiving hard courts used in Flushing Meadows and at other tournaments on the North American summer circuit. The tennis balls used at the U.S. Open, Nadal explained, are different from those at the French Open, for example, and don’t allow him to slather shots with as much topspin as he likes to use. And 23,771-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium, the largest arena in Grand Slam tennis, always seems to be quite windy, which Nadal said he finds troublesome.
All of that said, Nadal’s contemporaries would not be surprised to see his name etched on the silver U.S. Open trophy some day. “I’m not going to sit here and say he can’t win it. Of course he can win it,” said Andy Roddick, the 2003 champion seeded ninth this year. “What’s the prevailing thought, except that he hasn’t done it yet? He’s done everything else. He’s won on hard courts.
He’s won on slow hard courts. He’s won on fast courts. He can handle the pressure. Will he? I don’t know. But can he? Sure.” Roddick is one of four past champions scheduled to play in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Monday, along with Federer, Venus Williams and Kim Clijsters. Another previous winner, Lleyton Hewitt, will be in Louis Armstrong Stadium.
Also in action on Day 1 are Melanie Oudin, the teenager from Marietta, Ga., who made a surprising run to the quarterfinals last year, former No. 1s Dinara Safina and Ana Ivanovic, and this year’s French Open finalists, champion Francesca Schiavone and runner-up Sam Stosur. Nadal gets Monday off, then is slated to face Teymuraz Gabashvili of Russia in the first round Tuesday.
It’s the start of what Nadal hopes is a journey to his first U.S. Open final. “For sure, for me, personal satisfaction is going to be high if any day I have a chance to win here,” Nadal said.
Article by Howard Fendrich, AP Tennis Writer / Photo by Jaime L. Mikle/Getty Images