US Open: Roger Federer poised for fairytale of New York
New York: Roger Federer hopes to mark the 10th anniversary of his first US Open title with a sixth triumph in New York and become the oldest Grand Slam champion in more than 40 years.
In an astonishing reversal of fortunes, the 33-year-old, written off as a relic of the game when he slipped to a fourth round loss to Tommy Robredo 12 months ago, finds himself perfectly positioned to win a staggering 18th major.
Buoyed by claiming a sixth Cincinnati title -- his 80th career crown -- and with long-time rival Rafael Nadal again sidelined with injury, the Swiss is relishing the twilight of his career.
His last-16 loss to Robredo in 2013 in New York meant it was the first year since 2002 that he had failed to make a Grand Slam final. The defeat also marked the first time in 10 years that he hadn`t made at least the last-eight at Flushing Meadows.
Suddenly, his five consecutive US Open titles from 2004-2008 appeared a detail in history and his 17th and most recent major success -- the 2012 Wimbledon title -- looked certain to be his last.
But the Swiss never doubted his ability to remain a force in the sport and he goes into his 15th US Open with his unwavering confidence justified.
There were hints of a revival at Wimbledon in July where he was defeated in five sets by world number one Novak Djokovic.
Since then, he has been runner-up at Toronto and champion in Cincinnati and the problems of 2013, when he was hampered by a back injury, are now distant memories.
"I was scared to have another setback, and so it was just not as clear-cut and simple as it is this year," said second-seeded Federer, who faces Australia`s Marinko Matosevic in the first round of what will be his 64th consecutive Grand Slam.
"This year I played a lot of good matches. Not just Toronto and Cincinnati, but really from the first week on I have always played really nice tennis.
"You almost forget how to lose to a point and confidence rises. You`re back to winning ways again and everything seems so simple. I`m looking forward to this tournament, because I really feel like I can play a great tournament. I hope I can show that on the court this year."
Djokovic, the 2011 champion and who has featured in the last four finals, heads into the US Open with two dispiriting third round losses in Toronto and Cincinnati.
The 27-year-old Serb, recently married, has also had to bat back accusations that he is distracted by impending fatherhood.
"I wanted to do better in Canada and Cincinnati. Unfortunately I wasn`t even close to my best. But, you know, a lot of things happened in the last two months, and it was very emotional period," said Djokovic, who plays Argentina`s Diego Schwartzman in Monday`s first round.
"I just felt a little bit flat on the court. I wasn`t managing to find that intensity and the perfect mindset."
Despite recent hiccups, Djokovic`s record at all the majors is impressive -- the last time he failed to make at least the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam was at the 2009 French Open.
The odds on Djokovic and Federer meeting in the September 8 final were shortened when defending champion Nadal was forced to withdraw with a right wrist injury.
Andy Murray, the 2012 champion, has not reached a final of any description since his historic 2013 Wimbledon triumph.
Now down at nine in the world, the 27-year-old has not got beyond the quarter-finals of any tournament since his morale-sapping semi-final loss to Nadal at the French Open where the Spaniard allowed him just six games.
"This year would be the best prepared I have been coming into a slam. I got a great training block over in Miami done, so physically I`m where I would want to be. My body is pain-free, which is good," insisted Murray whose first round foe is Robin Haase of the Netherlands.
With 2009 champion Juan Martin del Potro still sidelined by injury, the much-vaunted next generation will get another opportunity to shine.
But they remain works in progress.
Canada`s Milos Raonic, the world number six, was a semi-finalist at Wimbledon and Cincinnati where he was swept aside in straight sets on both occasions by Federer.
Fellow 23-year-old Grigor Dimitrov, the world number eight, has three titles to his name in 2014 but lost out to Djokovic in the Wimbledon semi-finals.
More frustratingly, the Bulgarian boyfriend of Maria Sharapova has yet to win a match in three visits to the US Open.