World number one and defending US Open champion Rafael Nadal starts his campaign for a fourth title on Monday evening, with fellow Spaniard and former world number three David Ferrer his opponent, in what will be Ferrer’s final appearance at the tournament.
The pair, who are good friends off court, have played each other 30 times in their career, with Nadal comfortably leading the head to head 24-6. Ferrer has, however, pushed his compatriot several times in the past, though has not been in good form throughout this season.
This match will opening the tournament’s first night session of the year on the Arthur Ashe Stadium, with the winner facing Vasek Pospisil or Lukas Lacko in the second round.
US Open build up
After injury issues earlier on this season, Nadal has been in superb form this year, and came into the hard court summer fresh off a run to the last four at Wimbledon. The world number one started his preparation at the Rogers Cup in Canada, where tight victories over the likes of Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic saw him reach the final, where he beat Stefanos Tsitsipas to win the title for a fourth time. Nadal then withdrew from the Western and Southern Open as a precaution, though seems injury free ahead of the final Grand Slam of the year.
After having been near the top of the game for so long, Ferrer has struggled over the past 18 months, and has picked up only nine wins all season; he has fallen down to 148th in the rankings. Like his first round opponent, he started his US Open preparation at the Rogers Cup, where he fell in straight sets to Bradley Klahn, and then fell to another straight sets defeat at the Western and Southern Open to Benoit Paire, picking up just four games in that loss. He is seriously lacking in form coming into this encounter.
There is no doubting that of the two, it is Nadal who is the more powerful and aggressive, and the defending champion will look to build on this advantage throughout the match. Nadal will undoubtedly look to attack Ferrer’s serve and push his fellow Spaniard around the court, and may look to come in to the net to try and finish points off, as Ferrer could be tricky to break down if he his playing. Ferrer’s main challenge in this match will be to try and stop Nadal dictating the early stages of the rallies, and try to create space to start to get Nadal moving around the court.
As previously mentioned, Ferrer’s serve will be attacked frequently if it fall in Nadal’s striking zone, particularly on the forehand side, so he will need a high first serve percentage. Naturally, like all players, he must try to avoid Nadal’s forehand as much as possible, though may also struggle to cause struggle on the world number one’s backhand side, which is now a much bigger weapon than it used to be. Meanwhile, Nadal must be careful with his point construction, as he may allow Ferrer back into rallies if he plays any balls short.
This will undoubtedly be an emotional occasion for both men, considering this is Ferrer’s final appearance at the tournament, and the friendship the two share. However, it unfortunately seems unlikely that this will be too much of a contest, with Nadal likely to win this with some ease.
Prediction: Rafael Nadal in straight sets