Rafael Nadal says he's just a normal guy.
“Everything very normal,” said Nadal, the world's No. 2-ranked tennis player. “Nothing strange in my life. I practice. ... I go fishing. I play golf. I go party when I have the chance to go party. That's all. Really normal guy, normal life.”
Nadal's colleagues on the tennis tour might beg to differ.
After crushing American Ryan Harrison, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2, Monday in a first-round match at the U.S. Open, Nadal improved to 16-0 on hardcourts this year and did nothing to dispel the notion he's a heavy favorite in New York.
“Even though he wins Cincinnati and Canada, he's thinking about peaking here, which he's going to have a really good chance because he's one of the greatest players ever,” said Harrison, one of three American men to lose on Monday, along with Rhyne Williams and Michael Russell.
Asked what Harrison — and his fellow Americans — need to do to help catapult them into the top echelon, Nadal said in a deadpan, “Improve.”
Nadal was playing his first match in Flushing Meadows since the 2011 final, which he lost to Novak Djokovic. He missed last year's tournament with a bum left knee that kept him out of action for seven months.
“Today the first match after two years in the Arthur Ashe [Stadium], so is a great feeling,” said Nadal, winner of nine tournaments this year.
Nadal's draw figures to get tougher as the tournament progresses.
He could face big-serving, 6-foot-10 American John Isner in the fourth round, and five-time Open champ Roger Federer in the quarterfinals. Isner debuts on Tuesday, and Federer played later Monday.
After that, Nadal could meet fellow Spaniard David Ferrer in the semifinals and either defending champion Andy Murray or Djokovic, the world No. 1, in the final.
But considering his record this year and throughout his career, even that stretch of matches doesn't seem too daunting.
Nadal is 15-1 against the Top 10 this year, and 9-1 against Djokovic, Federer and Ferrer.
For his career, his record is 229-55 (.806) against the Top 30, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“I just played very well,” Nadal said. “Happy the way I was playing. I don't know if it was the best or not, but was very good because I was able to win.”
Just another day at the office for a normal guy.
Follow Adam Zagoria on Twitter @AdamZagoria for updates throughout the U.S. Open.