It has been an encouraging last couple of months for Roger Federer. After the Wimbledon heartbreak against Novak Djokovic and an unexpected loss to Jo Wilfried Tsonga in Toronto earlier this month, the Swiss maestro is back to his old trophy-winning ways, having edged David Ferrer in a tight Cincinnati Open final.
The victory against Ferrer was crucial for Federer in more than one ways. Firstly, it halted his habit of losing out in the Masters 1000 finals, having finished runners-up in his previous four finals. Secondly, it came at just about the perfect time for the 33-year-old with the final grand slam tournament of the season, the US Open, just around the corner.
It seems that Federer is heading into the US Open in the best possible circumstances. Having returned to his scintillating best and the confidence of his impressive results this year spurring him on, the 17 times major champion is in a very strong position to add another slam to his already stunning tally.
Rafael Nadal, his nemesis and also the defending champion, has withdrawn from the competition due to a wrist injury. The Spaniard’s absence from the competition is sure to give a psychological boost to Federer who will have to deal with one less hurdle to win a record sixth US Open title.
Given the form of Andy Murray and Stan Warwinka off late, on paper, it can be said that the US Open title race this year will down to a battle between Federer and Djokovic.
The new talented crop of players including Grigor Dimitrov, Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori and Nick Kygrios are expected to dazzle in the competition but perhaps, at present, haven’t got enough tricks up their sleeve to unsettle Djokovic or Federer.
However, between the two, surely it’s Djokovic who looks to be the favourite. The pugnacious Serb might not have had an ideal run-in to the US Open, he has remained an epitome of consistency in grand slam competitions over the last couple of years.
And surely, like Federer, he too must have taken a sigh of relief at the knowledge of not having to compete with Nadal who has thwarted his three grand slam title bids between 2012 and 2014.
Besides, in this current era of baseline players, Djokovic is perhaps only second to Nadal in the baseline game and is arguably the greatest returner of serve ever to have graced the game.
In his sweltering battle against Federer in the Wimbledon final this year, he was definitely the more dominant of the two players for larger chunks of the game. He served remarkably well, unsettled Federer with his deep returns and remained impregnable in baseline game.
Nevertheless, Federer will head into the US Open knowing that he harbours a good chance of once again conquering the courts of Flushing Meadows. The Swiss, though, will need to be more consistent and ensure he doesn’t have parched spells in between his matches, as was visible against Tsonga and Ferrer, if he is to get the better of Djokovic.
An eighteenth Grand Slam title for the veteran Swiss or an eighth major for Djokovic; a lot will be at stake at this year’s US Open for both the players.
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