Rafael Nadal Must Have Strong U.S. Open Showing to Salvage Season

Steven CookFeatured Columnist IVJuly 2, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 24:  Rafael Nadal of Spain reacts as he speaks to members of the media during a press conference following his defeat to Steve Darcis of Belgium in their Gentlemen's Singles first round match on day one of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 24, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Thomas Lovelock/AELTC - Pool/Getty Images)
Pool/Getty Images

It was a 2013 Wimbledon to forget for Rafael Nadal, to say the least.

All the more reason to turn things around for the year's final Grand Slam, the U.S. Open.

After winning his eighth French Open earlier in the summer, Nadal looked to be poised for a big performance at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. He'd only won there twice and hadn't raised the trophy since 2010.

Nadal wasted no time taking his name out of the running. He lost in the first round (yes, I said first round) to Belgium's Steve Darcis, the 135th-ranked player in the world, in straight sets in one of the most uncharacteristic performances of his career.

In fact, it statistically was his worst ever performance in a Grand Slam, per ESPN Stats and Information:

Nadal's first-round loss sent shockwaves through the sports world, but it's far from a death threat to the career of one of the all-time greats. That much is sure after this year's French Open, which Nadal tore through in dominating fashion.

Nadal hasn't had himself too bad of a season. ESPN Stats and Information gave us another tidbit, outlining just how dominant he was before the Wimbledon upset:

Nadal desperately needed a big 2013 after injuries prevented him from emerging as a consistent threat in 2012. His motivation get back on top was doubled when he fell out of the top four in the world rankings for the first time since 2005 earlier this year. 

Surely Nadal needs to convince no one of the fact that he's one of the four best players in the world. In fact, he might be in the conversation of the four best players ever

But there's no hiding the fact that Nadal is slipping slowly down the rankings, with names like Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray becoming more consistent contenders in Grand Slam tournaments. 

Nadal will always dominate at Roland Garros, but his ability elsewhere has been questioned over the past few seasons. As much as his biggest fans will defend his status as perhaps the best active player, he won't be close to that if he can't get back to winning Grand Slams not played in France.

The U.S. Open is a great opportunity for him to get back on track.

A different player has won the event in each of the four seasons after the last of Federer's five straight victories, including Nadal's only U.S. Open victory in 2010.

Also, it doesn't hurt that the U.S. Open was the event in which Nadal won his last Grand Slam not named the French Open. And on top of that, we're coming off one of the most improbable and upset-driven Grand Slams in history this year at Wimbledon. That should even the playing surface even further.

When it comes down to it, Nadal won't be given the glory he deserves until he gets back to winning other majors on a consistent basis.

That all starts at this year's U.S. Open.