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Rafael Nadal: Spaniard is fit and better at returning big serves

Features Posted 12th August 2013 view comments

Rafael Nadal proved in Montreal that he is going to be a major contender at the US Open.

The way he played at the Rogers Cup - not just in the final against Milos Raonic and the semi-final against Novak Djokovic but right the way through the week - showed that he is fully fit and producing some incredible tennis.

Return of verve: Nadal has improved his play against big servers, says Barry

Return of verve: Nadal has improved his play against big servers, says Barry

I always thought Rafa would return to the top of the game after his injury troubles but even I have been surprised at the level he has reached as it is perhaps better than it was before his seven-month spell off the court.

Nadal has always been able to improve areas of his game, including his serve, slice and ability to come forward and win points at the net, and he has now got better at returning big first serves and stunting their influence on games.

Rafa is winning the majority of his big matches, exactly what Djokovic did when he went on his unbelievable tear a few years ago.

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Rafa is having to work hard to compete with Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray but he never shirks that challenge and is now a superior player on hard courts to when he won the Australian Open in 2009 and US Open in 2010.

If Andy, Novak and Roger Federer are looking for a chink in Nadal's armour ahead of Flushing Meadows, I don't think they are going to find one.

His first-round exit to Steve Darcis at Wimbledon was, in my opinion, only because the clay-court season had taken so much out of him, while he is winning the majority of his big matches, exactly what Djokovic did when he went on his unbelievable tear a few years ago.

Rafa beat Novak in the third set in Montreal and he beat Novak when he was a break down in the French Open semi-final, so he is super confident, plus, after a nice break following Wimbledon, he is extremely fresh.

Overhaul

I expect Nadal to play in Cincinnati, where he could meet Federer in the quarter-finals, and I will also be expecting a big week from Djokovic, as he tries to claw his way back towards Rafa in the battle to end the year as world number one.

Novak's main goal will be to win the US Open but that alone is not going to see him overhaul Nadal so he needs to rack up as many points as he can in Ohio - and Murray will be looking for a successful tournament, too.

He lost early to Ernests Gulbis in Montreal but that was perhaps to be expected after Wimbledon; he fulfilled a dream by winning at SW19 so was always going to have a period of relaxation and recovery and last week came too early for him.

Andy will benefit from playing in the doubles in Canada with Colin Fleming and if he meets Gulbis again in the second round in Cincinnati - don't discount Mikhail Youzhny, who won on clay in Gstaad, from beating the Latvian - I think Andy will get his own back.

Gulbis has had a very good season but there are still question marks against him, as after defeating Andy in the Rogers Cup he imploded in the next round and lost to Raonic in a very nervy quarter-final.

He does win some big matches - he knocked off an albeit injured Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at Wimbledon - but he still lacks consistency, something that could stop him from gate-crashing the world's top 10.

I was also really impressed with semi-finalist Vasek Pospisil last week and, after beating the likes of John Isner, Radek Stepanek and Tomas Berdych, it was only in the last five minutes of the third-set tiebreak against Raonic that he blinked.

But after his run to the last four in Montreal and winning in Vancouver the week before, he will be absolutely shattered, not just physically but mentally as well, and to have to play Gilles Simon in the first round in Cincinnati will be tough.

I will be intrigued to see how the Canadian gets on - and also to discover whether Federer, who sat out Montreal, can play well and collect some wins.

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