Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal is the defending champion at the US Open. In this picture, Nadal of Spain in action during previews for the US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in the Flushing Neighborhood of Queens borough of New York City, Aug. 26, 2018. Julian Finney/Getty Images

Rafael Nadal’s coach Francisco Roig is confident that his charge is in good shape to defend his title at the US Open that begins Monday at Flushing Meadows, New York.

The Spaniard, currently the world number one, took time off after winning the Rogers Cup in Toronto to prepare for his title defense, which resulted in him skipping the Cincinnati Masters.

Nadal will be among the favorites going into the tournament, but Roig is aware that he will be challenged with his main rival expected to be Novak Djokovic, who has returned to top form after struggling with injury over the last 12 months.

The Serbian struggled for form after returning to action at the BNP Paribas Open in March, but gradually got back to his best which culminated in his win at Wimbledon in July. He then went on to pick up the title at Cincinnati making him one of the favorites for the US Open.

Nadal’s coach praised the 13-time men’s singles Grand Slam winner and admitted there was never any doubt about Djokovic not finding his best form once he made his return from injury. Apart from the Spaniard and the Serb, world number two Roger Federer is the third person in contention for the title at Flushing Meadows.

Andy Murray is the only one among the big four lagging behind having only made his return from injury recently. The quarter-finals at the Citi Open is his best result thus far and it will be a major shock if he challenges for the title at the US Open. Roig admits that while he has fallen a little behind the three, he is still a challenge when playing at his best.

"I had no doubt that Djokovic was going to come back, because he is too good not to do so," Roig said, according to the ATP site. "He was playing at such a high level for so many years and it is very difficult to maintain that level of consistency for so long. He had that dip for a little bit but he is proving all his doubters wrong and all I know is that I was never one of those to doubt he would be back.”

“Of the ‘Big Four', maybe it’s Murray who has fallen a step behind,” Roig said. “But falling a step behind means nothing; I don’t know how he’s playing right this moment. If he’s recovered physically, he’s obviously a threat to Rafa’s [title] defence. A match between Rafa and Murray is always 50-50,” he added.

The world number one’s coach also reserved special praise for Nadal and Federer, who have turned back the clock in the last two seasons. After struggling with injury in 2016, they returned to dominate the tour, winning numerous titles and returning to the top of the world ranking.

Roig is certain that the level of competitiveness between the two players and their desire to reach new levels has kept them playing their best despite being in the latter stages of their careers. He is certain that Nadal and Federer would have retired by now if not for the other.

"Rafa and Roger are two phenomena,” Roig said. “They have each made comebacks, they have dodged pitfalls, their rivalry goes back years, they both push each other and, honestly, each is pulling for the other. I can honestly say that if one wasn’t playing, the other might have retired by now as well.”