CINCINNATI Aug 18 (Reuters) - The undisputed King of Clay, Rafa Nadal could soon extend his reign to the hardcourt after establishing himself as the red-hot favourite for the U.S. Open with back-to-back wins in Montreal and Cincinnati.
With eight French Open titles, Nadal may be the best ever on the dirt but the Spaniard has also stood tall this year on the American hardcourts, where he remains unbeaten with a 15-0 record.
"On clay, we only had three (Masters events), I won two, and I played the final," Nadal told reporters after grinding out a 7-6 7-6 win over American John Isner in the final of the Western and Southern Open.
"The results on clay were amazing. On hard, I play three, I won all three. Is only one more match. That's all.
"I think it's just a coincidence, in my opinion, but no doubt I am better player on clay than on hard."
Some would debate that assessment based on Nadal's play on the hardcourts this season which - based on his record - has so far been flawless.
To be fair, Nadal has already proven himself to be a man for all surfaces with grand slams titles on clay, grass and hardcourt.
With the exception of grass and his opening-round slip up at Wimbledon, the Spaniard has impressed on all surfaces again this season.
He added to his grand slam collection at the French Open and has captured five of seven Masters Series events, including three-of-four hardcourt stops.
The U.S. Open has always been the hardest grand slam for Nadal because of its unforgiving surface and timing.
Of his 12 grand slam titles, only one has come at Flushing Meadows and he only reached the final on one other occasion.
Nadal usually arrives at the back end of the tennis schedule with his knees creaking like two rusty gates and nursing a mountain of aches and pains that are the payment for his relentless action-packed style.
The ongoing battle with the debilitating tendonitis in his knees continues.
But this year, after a long injury layoff that bridged the end of last season and the start of the current campaign along with a six week break following his Wimbledon exit, Nadal has arrived in U.S. ready for action.
"If I am able to be healthy for the rest of the year, probably the rest is going to be positive," said Nadal.
"For the last eight years before the injury, I didn't stop, I played every year long, very long seasons with very, very high intensity.
"So mentally and physically, to have a period of rest and recovery, your body is great.
"When you are in tough moments, in hard moments, when you are suffering, working every day, trying to recover, when you are back, the only thing you want to do is try to enjoy every moment, try to be at your 100 percent and play with the higher intensity and passion.
"After from the place that I came, just to be here playing and competing is fantastic and that gives me this extra power, intensity to compete well." (Editing by Nick Mulvenney)