“I’m clearly very impressed, especially seeing him play really well on the quicker hard courts. ... He’s someone to be reckoned with. There were a lot of question marks when he came back. Especially, people thought he was just going to play on the clay courts, or most of it, and just some hard courts,” said Federer, the champion in New York every year from 2004-08.
“He’s playing a full schedule,” Federer said, “and he’s had an incredible season so far.”
All told, Nadal is 53-3 with a tour-leading nine titles, more than twice as many as any other man. He reached the final at 11 of the 12 tournaments he entered.
A year ago, when Murray beat Djokovic in five sets in the U.S. Open final, Nadal was at home on the Spanish island of Mallorca, watching the tournament on television.
Nadal wasn’t particularly concerned about missing this particular tour stop, he said, as much as he fretted about when — and, really, whether — he would get back to playing his best.
“I was worried about the recovery, not about being here,” he said. “I was more worried about when I will have the chance to be back, how will the knee improve. ... Emotionally, there were ups and downs. It is hard when you are working every day and you don’t see the improvement on the injury. That is the hardest moment, the toughest moment.”
The last time he was seen in Grand Slam action, at Wimbledon in June, Nadal was being beaten by 135th-ranked Steve Darcis, the only first-round loss of his career at a major tournament. That also was Nadal’s only defeat in his past 33 matches.
If he and Federer both win four times at the U.S. Open, they will meet in the quarterfinals. They own a combined 29 Grand Slam titles, have faced each other 31 times (Nadal leads 21-10), including in eight major finals (Nadal leads 6-2) — and have never been on opposite sides of the net at Flushing Meadows.
“We deserved a final here in the U.S. Open. Yeah, that is strange that it didn’t happen. I remember Roger having match points in the 2010 semifinals, 2011 semifinals — so we were one point away. ... I missed it in 2009; I missed it in 2008,” Nadal said. “Hopefully this time will be the good one.”