Rafa Nadal has won all four of tennis’ Grand Slam Championships, a “career Grand Slam” feat accomplished by only five men in Open era (Rod Laver, Andre Agassi, Roger Federer, Nadal, and Novak Djokovic). Nadal, a clay court behemoth who has won the French Open an astounding (and record-smashing) ten times, has worked arduously on every aspect of his game through the years enabling him to succeed on every surface, not just the red stuff at Roland Garros. Even more remarkable than his surface versatility has been Nadal’s stunning longevity and emergence from injury: having fallen from the elite corps of potential slam winners just a few years ago, the 31-year-old Nadal enters this year’s US Open ranked No. 1 in the world. Nadal’s great rival Roger Federer, busy with his own ridiculous taunting of Father Time, calls Nadal’s return to No. 1 “absolutely massive.”
Nadal hasn’t been No. 1 in the world since July 6, 2014 — more than three years ago. (He first ascended to No. 1 nine years ago.) In the time since it has seemed unlikely to even the most ardent Nadal fans that he would return to the spot. Sure, he might steal another Slam. But the consistency required to occupy the No. 1 ranking didn’t look likely in 2015 and throughout most of 2016. Yet Nadal — with a little help from Novak Djokovic’s decline — is back at the top. Federer, who knows what it takes, is also a very articulate surveyor of what’s going on in tennis. When he says “massive,” he knows of what he speaks. Nadal is looking for his third US Open title, having won in 2010 and 2013.