Why we’ll watch him: Win or lose, the two-time French Open champ is “a force of nature,” says CBS Sports tennis analyst Mary Carillo. “Fans watch him take the court, a caged beast suddenly allowed to patrol his territory, with eyes blazing and his taut, muscled body already lathered in sweat.”
Why he’s a winner: A favorite at the U.S. Open, which begins Aug. 28 in New York City, “Rafa” points to his other assets: “My forehand and my state of mind. I’m always calm.” The lefty, 20, credits his composure to his down-to-earth family; he lives in the same low-rise with them on Majorca, and his uncle Toni is his coach. “So many tennis families are nightmares. But Rafael and his uncle seem like classy people,” says analyst Patrick McEnroe. “They want to rip your head off on the court, but they don’t want to spit on you.”
Love match: He describes his dream date as “not a celebrity, just an everyday girl.” Which may explain why for the past year he’s been seen with a young woman he won’t identify other than as a fellow Spaniard.
Arms and the man: Nadal insists he doesn’t do major weight training to sculpt the biceps Andy Roddick once called “bigger than my head.” He says, “It’s more natural than anything else.”
Advantage, Rafa: “I know that I can lose to any player at any time,” Nadal says. “But when you step on the court you always have to think you can win.”