World No. 1 and defending US Open champion Rafael Nadal said at Thursday’s draw ceremony in Manhattan that deciding who the favourite is in Flushing Meadows is not a difficult task. In the Spaniard’s mind, there is none.

“I think it’s not clear, one favourite,” Nadal said. “Even when somebody thinks somebody’s a clear favourite, from inside it doesn’t look like this. Of course Novak [Djokovic], Roger [Federer], they’re doing very well. Especially [since] they like the hard courts. Let’s see, let’s see what’s going on.”

One of those favourites is certainly Nadal, who resides atop the ATP Rankings. Despite struggling with a right hip injury early in the year, that caused him to struggle physically at the Australian Open and withdraw from Acapulco, he has found his best form, tallying a 40-3 record in 2018.

Nadal has captured five tour-level titles this season, including his 11th Coupe des Mousquetaires at Roland Garros, and most recently, a triumph on the hard courts of Toronto at the Rogers Cup, his record 33rd ATP World Tour Masters 1000 victory.

“It’s been a positive year, of course,” Nadal said. “Since I came back, I was playing well and winning a lot of matches. Toronto gave me the possibility to rest a little bit. I’m getting a little bit older, as everybody knows. I took that week, nothing against Cincinnati, it’s about just trying to save my body, to play as long as possible. That’s something that I’m really looking forward to making happen, and let’s see. I rested, I practised and here I am.”

Nadal has enjoyed plenty of success in New York over the years, lifting the trophy in 2010, 2013 and 2017. He has advanced to the semi-finals or better six times, doing so in five straight appearances from 2008-11 and 2013, missing the tournament in 2012 due to knee tendinitis.

“We practise every day to try to be ready for the action, for the competition, even more for the big ones,” Nadal said. “The atmosphere here in New York is difficult to compare with any other place. I love the night sessions, I love the connection with the crowd. I always feel very comfortable here.”

There are plenty of tough challengers in the field. Fifth seed Kevin Anderson, whom Nadal beat in last year’s US Open final, and ninth seed Dominic Thiem, whom the Spaniard defeated earlier this year to triumph at Roland Garros, are the highest-ranked seeds in Nadal’s quarter. The 32-year-old believes many other players can also make a deep run in Flushing Meadows.

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“Especially now with this young generation coming, you never know. When you have young people there, you never know about the potential of what they have. They can propose something different and they can increase their level very quickly,” Nadal said. “[Alexander] Zverev, at some point he has to move forward and fight for the titles, that’s [something] he’s already doing. [Denis] Shapovalov, let’s see [Nick] Kyrgios, [John] Isner, just [with these] kind of players, anything can happen.“

The women’s defending champion, Sloane Stephens, wouldn’t look at the draw during the ceremony. Seeing his possible opponents doesn’t bother Nadal.

“I’m not crazy about the draw, but of course I really don’t care,” Nadal said. “At the end of the day, you will have to know your opponent… the tournament starts from the first round.”

For now, Nadal’s focus will be squarely set on his first-round opponent, former World No. 3 David Ferrer.