What a year-and-a-half Rafael Nadal has had. If the splendid Spaniard can win the 2013 US Open, it will rank among the most heart-warming of sporting comebacks, and one we ought to have seen coming.
Watching Nadal crunch one wicked forehand after another past a desperate Roger Federer in Cincinnati earlier this month was to witness two champions re-energised, the younger man prevailing to record his 21st win over the older in 31 meetings.
It was not just a quarter-final of a Masters 1000 tournament, it was a reminder of how brilliant both of them had been for such a long stretch and for our grateful enjoyment.
Federer was magnificent one more time. Nadal was more magnificent. And here they are again, back in New York, where they have never met and where the Swiss has won five of his 17 slam finals (the last of them five years ago, against Andy Murray), the man from Majorca just one of his 12.
If Federer is on a bit of a bounce, this is Nadal’s third renaissance. The first followed his serial mauling by Novak Djokovic in 2011, when it seemed the entire top 10 playing at once could not stop the Serb, who tortured Nadal on his favoured clay and everywhere else, beating him for fun. It had to end, and Nadal did just that where we thought he might, at Roland Garros last year, stopping Djokovic’s bid for four slams in a row.
After Wimbledon low
When he lost at Wimbledon for the second year in a row, however - this time to Steve Darcis - eyebrows raised as sharply as his own, and we wondered if this was the finish line for him and his tender knees.
It was not the end, though.
Nadal came back once more to terrorise the contenders in Montreal then Cincinnati. He stands now on the verge of more glory. To put himself in sight of the final, he will more than likely have to embarrass Federer for the 22nd time.
Their pairing in that quarter of the draw was more influential on the tournament than was Andy Murray’s with Djokovic in their half. Nadal and Federer will get their fight out of the way earlier, and a predicted win for Nadal will bring him to a dangerous peak.