Rafael Nadal is back to the No. 2 ranking for the first time since his injury lay-off. (Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
NEW YORK -- Rafael Nadal credits his aggressive play as the key to his 2013 hard court success. The reigning French Open champion has yet to drop a match on hard courts, generally considered to be his worst surface, all year.
"I think you can play aggressive when you are playing well," Nadal said during the U.S. Open's Media Day. "That's the first and important thing. It's true I'm trying to take the ball a little bit early, that I worked on my game to be a little bit more aggressive."
The 2010 U.S. Open champion also made it a point to remind everyone that his hard court success shouldn't be a surprise. "But at the same time, it's true that in the past when I was playing well on this surface I had good success, too. So it's not something crazy that changed today that I had the chance to play well on hard, no?"
Novak Djokovic, who lost to Nadal in the semifinals of the Rogers Cup in Montreal, Canada, has noticed the tactical differences in Nadal's game as well. "He stepped in a little bit more," the top-ranked Serb said. "He knows that now he has to be a bit more aggressive than he usually is because of, I guess, his knees and everything and because hard court is not clay. It's not his favorite surface; it's faster. I'm sure he worked on that, and you could see that all the work he put in are getting results."
Aside from his quest to win his 13th career Slam, the year-end No. 1 ranking is also in play. Nadal, who is back to the No. 2 ranking for the first time since his injury lay-off, has zero points to defend for the rest of the year. He already tops the leaderboard in the sheer amount of points acquired this season and with 2,000 points up for grabs in New York, he has a huge opportunity to make a move to eclipse Djokovic.
"This tournament, will make the difference," Nadal said. "It's true that I am having a great season. I am in a positive position, but nothing decisive having a Grand Slam and 2000 points here."
"I'm gonna try," he continued. "I said since I came back you like a lot to talk about the No. 1 and my goal was to be No. 1. I always say the same: Be No. 1 is not my goal. My goal is be healthy, have the chance to be competitive, and finish the year with good feeling and having the chances to play well. That's happening.
"At the end, you are No. 1 or you are not No. 1. [I'm not] gonna go and fight for the No. 1. We'll see at the end of the season. If I am No. 1, it will be amazing, amazing season for me. If I am not No. 1, it still will be amazing season for me. This tournament gonna make a big difference. We will see what's happening here, and after here I will say not everything will be decided, but things can be more clear [or] completely less clear," he said with a laugh.
Djokovic, who hasn't won a hard-court tournament since February, conceded that when it comes to current form, Nadal is the best in the game. "He's definitely so far the best player this year," Djokovic said. "There is no question about it. The results are showing everything."
Nadal will play his first round match against Ryan Harrison on Monday.