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

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.

  • sharon

    Funny how nemanja thinks someone backing Rafa is being emotional but his evaluation of Novak is apparently clear headed. Rafa is the better tennis player – he has proved that convincingly over the years.l Novak was on a hot streak for six months but he’s wearing out. My money’s on the better tennis player who has proved his prowess (and his domination over Novak and Federer and Murray) for the past few years.

  • MIrko

    Once you star losing most important finals you are perhaps not fully done but confidence is lost so the results therewith. After terrible and unprecedented blow in tennis history from Djoković, Nadal will never be the same player !!
    In future when Rafa plays Novak I say Nole has the best possible draw and wins for sure !!

  • mark

    to nemanja,
    stay back

  • Sammy

    The notion that Djoko WILL win if he meets Nadal in the USO just because he beat him the last 5 times they met is laughable. At one point in 2009, Rafa had beaten Djoko 5 consecutive times also, then the tide shifted back and forth and it’s now in Djoko’s favour. So, don’t delude yourself into thinking that Nadal can’t swing back and beat Djoko; he (Nadal) is one of the greatest warriors/problem solvers tennis has ever known and he certainly has the tools to beat anybody, including Djoko, which he did 16 times. Write him off at your own peril.

  • nemanja

    your confidence in nadal is surprising and totally unwarranted. He has been totally dominated by djokovic as recently as wimbledon. He has been beaten by djokovic on three surfaces in the last six months – it is probably your emotion factoring into what you write, but it surely is not based on anything that has happened on a tennis court – nadal will fall short, and djokovic will win – that is the likely result

    this is the problem with too many tennis pundits – they have an emotional atttachment to federer or nadal or both of them and it clouds judgment bottom line

    • Barbara Ball

      sounds like you have an emotional attachment to Mr. Jerk (djokovic). Don’t ever write Rafa off.

  • fong ho kheong

    My observation is that if Roger can surpass Tsonga, he can beat Jokovic in a match of 5 games and go into final either with Murray or Nadal. If Nadal is in form
    he can beat others in 3 or 4 games each and reserve energy to bean Murray. i dont think Nadal has a problem to beat Roger in the final.

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