After returning impressivley from a seven-month injury lay-off to win nine titles, including a French Open and an unbeaten 15-match hard-court run, Rafael Nadal enters the US Open, which starts today in New York as the number-one target.
"Nadal is definitely back and he's playing maybe the best tennis that he ever has played on hard courts," said world number one Novak Djokovic.
After healing the nagging knee injuries that have bothered him for years, Nadal dominated on his beloved clay with wins at Sao Paulo, Acapulco, Madrid, Rome, Barcelona and Roland Garros for his 12th career Grand Slam crown and eighth French Open title in nine years.
But what impresses his rivals on the Flushing Meadows hard courts, where the year's final Grand Slam starts today, is his unbeaten run on hard courts, taking titles at Indian Wells and in August at Montreal and Cincinnati in his US Open tune-ups.
"He has beaten some tough players in tough tournaments," defending US Open champion Andy Murray said.
"It's not like he's had easy draws or whatever. He's beaten some top, top players. Yeah, he's going to be very difficult to beat here."
Nadal, for his part, plays down the performance.
"I had a great summer, but that's all. Doesn't mean nothing else," Nadal said. "I hope to be very competitive for the first match."