Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal enter the US Open as the overwhelming favourites to battle it out for the title. With the scent of another major in the air all three are making the right noises again.
The trio lead the way in the world rankings and each have an ATP-leading three titles in 2019.
On the eve of the final major of the year, the Slams have again been the preserve of Djokovic, Federer and Nadal – nobody since Stan Wawrinka at the 2016 US Open has been able to stop the remarkable trio in the sport’s showpiece events.
Alongside current dominance, there is the prospect of legendary status. The trio sit at least two clear of everyone else in the men’s all-time table and with both Nadal and Djokovic poised behind Federer’s tally of 20 – the Serb was in no mood to talk it down.
Speaking at his pre-tournament press conference, Djokovic said: “It’s still a very long way ahead of me and it does also put a certain level of responsibility to me as well, because I am aiming to do that. It’s definitely one of my ambitions and goals.”
- US Open: Men’s Draw
- Five to challenge for men’s title
This year has been no different. Djokovic, the defending champion in New York, has two more majors to his name. Nadal, obviously, heads to the Big Apple with another French Open, while Federer has to console himself with just another Wimbledon final.
There have been 65 majors since Federer became the first of the trio to win a Slam at Wimbledon in 2002 and they have claimed 55 of them – although it’s the US Open where the mortals have had their chance with five of the 10 they have not won coming in New York.
All three reached the last four at Wimbledon in the last Grand Slam and the trio have spoken bullishly on hopes of another title at Flushing Meadows.
Djokovic won his third US Open last year and has four of the last five Slams to his name, Nadal is a three-time US champion, the last coming in 2017, while Federer has five.
Instead of who can stop them, the question is which of the trio is most likely to add to their eye-watering major tallies?
Most Men’s Grand Slam titles 20 Roger Federer 18 Rafael Nadal 16 Novak Djokovic 14 Pete Sampras 12 Roy Emerson Dominant Djokovic sets sights on Federer
The Serb is the man in form, as the defending champion his media obligations came under a touch more scrutiny but most striking was his admission that Federer, currently four clear of him in the Grand Slam stakes, is his target.
Rightly so, a win over the next fortnight will give him three majors in a year for the third time in his career, level with Federer on that front, although the Swiss has not done it since 2007 and Nadal has done it just once (2010).
Djokovic also has a career Grand Slam to his name, and fell just short of a second in Paris earlier this year.
His current run deserves to be talked about with the very best spells in the game. That it has come after his drop down the rankings is even more notable.
The 32-year-old can also draw on one of his greatest victories, the five-set epic success over Federer at Wimbledon, so it does not have far to look for inspiration against his rivals.
“It’s in the top two matches I have ever played, the other match is the one against Nadal in the final of the Australian Open [in 2012] which went almost for six hours,” he said.
“So those two matches really are very special and take a special place in my career and my mind as well.
“I still have flashes from the Australian match, many years after. And of course I would wish to remember the Wimbledon final against Roger this year for many years to come.
“I am 32. So things are a little bit different than they were 10 years ago, I am still very motivated to keep going especially at this stage.
“Especially now, more or less everything is about Grand Slams in terms of how I see tennis and how I approach them because they matter the most.”
Federer aiming to end long wait
So what of the legendary Swiss who won all five of his titles in succession between 2004 and 2008? He has made just two finals in NYC since and heads to the last Grand Slam of the year with a couple of concerns.
How much will that gruelling, heartbreaking Wimbledon defeat to Djokovic have taken out of him?
The signs in Cincinnati were not good as he suffered a defeat to Russian qualifier Andrey Rublev, but as ever he seems to be taking it all his stride.
“I’m not putting extra pressure on myself. I know it’s going to be tough,” he said in his press conference in New York.
“I’m not coming in as the overwhelming favourite like maybe I did back in 2006 or 2007. I’m very much aware of how I need to approach this tournament mentally.
“We were saying on the practice court two days ago that this is probably the best I’ve felt in years coming into the US Open again, which is encouraging.”
Federer’s last Grand Slam was the Australian Open last year, and though he has only one semi-final and one final appearance in the premier events since, they have come in the most recent slams.
“I’ve been playing well, and playing well in the slams recently, which has been great. I think also the win over Rafael [Nadal] in the Wimbledon semis was big for me. Also the final, the way I played that, is going to give me some extra confidence.”
“Cincinnati might be a good thing that I lost early, who knows? It’s maybe one of those things that sometimes needs to happen, I played a great Wimbledon, I needed to get knocked down in Cincy, to get my act together, train hard.”
As the third seed Federer will most likely have to overcome both of his great rivals, he is in the same half as Djokovic and a semi-final blockbuster looms.
US Open: Selected First Round matches Novak Djokovic (1) vs Roberto Carballes Baena Rafael Nadal (2) vs John Millman Roger Federer (3) vs Sumit Nagal Nadal keen to make amends
Astonishingly, Federer and Nadal, despite 40 career meetings, have never met in New York. If it’s to happen this year it would have to be the final, but Nadal, the second seed, is not getting ahead of himself one year on from injury heartache.
“My feeling on the knees are better this year than last year. Last year the problem was I played three or four very, very long matches. That’s tough.”
Two sets down, the Spaniard was forced to withdraw from his semi-final against Juan Martin del Potro 12 months ago, but having opted out of Cincinnati he heads to New York on the high of another Masters title in Montreal.
“I hope to be ready, I think I am playing well. I am practising the right way during these days. Of course, winning in Montreal helps. I am ready for the action.
“My last events have been win Rome, win in Roland Garros, semi-finals in Wimbledon, and winning Montreal.