Rafael Nadal's memories of his lone match against Borna Coric at US Open are a bit fuzzy, which is understandable.
When the two met in the Swiss Indoors last October, Nadal had just decided to undergo season-ending appendix surgery once his run in the tournament ended. That would come against Coric, a gifted teen from Croatia who won that day in straight sets against a sluggish Nadal.
"It was a tough moment of the year for me," the 14-time Grand Slam champion recalled Saturday.
"I don't remember it very well, but I think I played very bad," Nadal added, laughing.
The two men face off for the second time Monday, and for good reason, US Open organizers believe it could be a compelling match. It closes out the night session at Arthur Ashe Stadium as the year's final Grand Slam tournament begins.
Coric just missed out on a seed with a ranking of 35th, making the 18-year-old a particularly difficult first-round matchup for a top player.
"He's one of the players that is the future of our sport, so it's a tough one," Nadal said. "But I'm playing well."
That Nadal would need to insist he is in good form is telling. The appendix surgery was just the latest health problem at the time for Nadal, who was unable to defend his US Open title last year because of a right wrist injury.
The 29-year-old Spaniard is seeded just eighth and was upset in the second round at Wimbledon by 102nd-ranked qualifier Dustin Brown. This month, Nadal failed to make it past the quarterfinals in two hard-court warmups.
But he keeps saying he is now playing better than those results show, and he'll get a chance to prove that right away against an opponent of Coric's caliber.