NEW YORK (AFP) –
Roger Federer aims to cap his dramatic renaissance by becoming the first man in 87 years to win six US Open titles when the season’s last Grand Slam event takes place from Monday.
World number one Federer currently has five New York wins, a mark he shares with US legends Pete Sampras and Jimmy Connors, an equal-best performance in the Open era.
But the last man to win six was Bill Tilden, who achieved the feat in the strictly amateur days of 1925 before finishing his career with seven in 1929.
Having just turned 31, Federer is back at world number one thanks to a record-equalling seventh Wimbledon title, his 17th Grand Slam trophy.
He was a silver medallist at the Olympics and has six tour titles in total this year, a statistic capped by a record fifth Cincinnati Masters where he swept past Novak Djokovic in the final.
Federer won his five straight US Open titles between 2004 and 2008 but missed the chance of a sixth in 2009 when he lost a five-set thriller to Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro.
Rafael Nadal, missing through injury this year, and Djokovic claimed the 2010 and 2011 editions.
Federer’s record at the majors remains one of outstanding consistency — he has reached the quarter-finals or better at 33 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments.
Twelve months ago, he squandered match points and lost to Djokovic in the semi-finals in New York, but has gone 56-7 in 2012.
“There have been a lot of sacrifices,” said the top seed. “I took some time to assess the situation and how should I move forward.
“It has been a great last 12 months. I always did believe that if things turned for the better for me I was always going to be very near to World No. 1. I wasn’t far off.
“You have to be patient sometimes and just keep working hard and believing that what you’re doing is the right thing as well.”
Djokovic, the Australian Open winner and defending champion in New York, is hitting form at the right time — his runner-up spot in Cincinnati came on the back of a Toronto Masters triumph seven days earlier.
The draw has also favoured him — he can only meet either Federer or third-seeded Olympic champion Andy Murray in the final.
“I feel this energy, I love playing in this tournament. Twice I played the final, semi-finals, and won eventually the title in 2011,” said Djokovic.
“It’s incredible and a very unique feeling to come back to New York as defending champion. It’s one of the most exciting cities in the world.”
In the absence of seven-time French Open champion Nadal, who hasn’t played since his shock second round exit at Wimbledon, Murray will start as third seed.
The Scot won the Olympic gold medal, a triumph which helped ease his tearful defeat to Federer in the final at Wimbledon in July where he was the first Briton to reach the championship match in 74 years.
But he goes into the US Open, where he was runner-up to Federer in 2008, under a fitness cloud having withdrawn from Toronto after one match with a knee injury and then losing to French lucky loser Jeremy Chardy in his second match at Cincinnati.
“Winning the Olympics was the biggest win of my career, that’s for sure. It meant a lot to me,” 25-year-old Murray said.
“I feel confident in myself just now. That’s what’s important. I prepared well. I trained hard the last five or six days so I’m ready to go.”
Outside of the big three, the likes of David Ferrer, Del Potro and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will be favoured to pounce in case of a slip-up.
Spanish world number five Ferrer, a semi-finalist at the French Open and quarter-finalist at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, has a best New York finish of the semi-finals in 2007.
World number eight Del Potro is still to back-up his 2009 US Open triumph after missing the 2010 season with a wrist injury.
Tsonga, the world number six, was a Wimbledon semi-finalist for a second successive year in July, made the last eight in New York in 2011, his best performance in four visits.