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Hartnett: 2011 U.S. Men’s Open: Can Anyone Topple Rafael Nadal?

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Rafael Nadal of Spain smiles during a press conference held on Arthur Ashe Kids' Day prior to the start of the 2010 U.S. Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 28, 2010 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Jaime L. Mikle/Getty Images)

Rafael Nadal of Spain smiles during a press conference held on Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day prior to the start of the 2010 U.S. Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 28, 2010 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Jaime L. Mikle/Getty Images)

By Sean Hartnett
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Defending U.S. Open champion Rafael Nadal enjoyed a 2010 calendar year like few others have in the history of professional tennis.  He might have gone on to complete the sweep of four Grand Slam titles if not for a knee injury that forced him to withdraw from the Australian Open during his quarterfinal match against Andy Murray.

Still, it was a wonderful year for the Spaniard and last year, Flushing Meadows was the site for rare history.  By defeating Novak Djokovic in the 2010 U.S. Open Final, Nadal became only the seventh man to ever complete a Career Grand Slam.  No matter what the surface, Nadal simply conquered the tennis world in 2010.  He became the only man in the history of the sport to complete a Grand Slam on grass, hard court and clay in a single calendar year.

Current world no. 1 Novak Djokovic is achieving a similar level of dominance in 2011 as Nadal did in a year earlier.  Having already won the Australian Open and Wimbledon, Djokovic is looking to complete a treble by winning at Flushing Meadows.

The Serbian ace defeated Nadal in the finals at Wimbledon but is yet to claim a U.S. Open title.  There is a bit of intriguing history between the two and as Djokovic and Nadal are on opposite sides of the 2011 U.S. Open draw, it is very possible they could meet in a repeat of the 2010 final.

One man looking to spoil that reunion is Roger Federer.  Late January of 2010 seems like a very long major drought for someone as heralded as Federer.  The closest that Federer has come to capturing a major title since was the 2011 French Open but he lost out to Nadal in the finals.  It is a tournament that Nadal has simply made his own as he’s won at Roland Garros six times.

At the age of 20, Juan Martin del Potro upset Federer at the 2009 U.S. Open Final.  Del Potro relies on a power-based game and is able generate forehand shots in excess of 100 MPH.  He is a streaky competitor but can crash the party in any given tournament.

Another dark-horse is Andy Murray.  The Scotsman is yet to win a major in his career but the fast surface at Flushing Meadows favors his counter-punching, agile abilities.  He’s been long-touted to win a major and the U.S. Open offers a chance for him to live up to the billing he continually receives in the British press.  Murray lost out to Federer in the 2008 U.S. Open Final.

American Andy Roddick won the 2003 U.S. Open over Juan Carlos Ferrero.  It may seem very long ago to some as it came before Federer’s string of five consecutive U.S. Open titles.  Roddick hasn’t reached a major final since 2009 and has been surpassed by Mardy Fish as the top-ranked American.  Fish is now ranked no. 8 overall in the world and like Roddick possesses a very strong serve.  I’d give Roddick the leg up on Fish because of his past record at Flushing Meadows but neither is expected to contend this year.

Plenty of tennis experts are putting their faith in Djokovic to continue his exceptional form as he heads into the U.S. Open.  It could very well be his time to own the sport as Nadal and Federer did before him.

I am instead leaning toward Nadal.  His extremely-high fitness levels and mental strength give him an edge that few possess.  He is also a very intelligent studier of opponents and is able to modify his game during matches.

Djokovic may one day go on to win the U.S. Open but I’m backing Nadal to repeat at Flushing Meadows.

Who do you believe has the edge in the 2011 U.S. Men’s Open?  Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartyLFC.

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