The stage is set. The night sky teems with stars and the floodlights fill the stadium. The die has been cast as the draws have been declared for the final Grand Slam event of the year. As Flushing Meadows warms up to host yet another US Open Championship, things look prospectively more exciting.
The Swiss Great, Roger Federer having had celebrated his birthday earlier this month on the 8th of August, will be stepping into Arthur Ashe Stadium as a 37-year-old on a tireless quest for his 21st Grand Slam title.
With a career stretching out over 20 years, Federer has always been raising doubts of whether he really is the greatest player of all time, as he sits back with a mischievous grin decorated with 20 Grand Slam titles to his name on his unending list.
Some people scratched their heads over this heated debate, sometimes in awe marveling at his genius while others covered their eyes, in sheer disbelief as he hit a shot too wide and forced an error too many but most of them stood gaping with their mouths wide open as Federer swung his racket like a magic wand and performed a glissade on the blue hard courts.
To trace the timeline, it reveals that it has been an overtly extensive gap spanning to 10 years when Roger Federer last had the US Open Men's Trophy cradled in his hands.
The smooth finish of the silvery metal somehow keeps evading the slippery grasp of Federer just as we come to the close of the year's Grand Slam tournaments.
So what is the cause one wonders? Especially after Federer scripted a stellar comeback after a six-month layoff in 2016 which has been regarded as a formulaic strategy for the ageing Federer, how is it that he shows ever so slight signs of losing steam at this time of the year?
For someone who has known the sport like the back of his hand and held the top perch for a record 310 weeks, the most by any tennis player, the Swiss player isn't having the puzzle pieces arranging themselves in the right way come every August.
Having had a surreal fairytale run in 2017 when Federer squeezed back into the circuit and began his ascent once again by winning the 2017 Australian Open which culminated in a nail-biting five-set finale showdown against arch-rival Rafael Nadal.
With the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup in hand, that win gave Federer his sixth Australian Open title and his 18th Grand Slam overall, ending a five-year drought.
Sitting out the French Open, an invincible Roger went to the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club and made sure that the Wimbledon trophy came back to the rightful devotee a record eighth time.
But when the time came for the US Open Championships, Federer seemed to waver from his track and succumbed to the Argentine Juan Martin del Potro in four sets.
The year 2018 did begin on the right note for the Basel-born player as he repeated his 2017 stint and won the Australian Open on a fairly easy mode. But it was with Wimbledon this year that the strains really began to show.
Displaced from the Centre Court and consequently playing his quarter-finals on Court 1 for a major change, Federer looked uneasy from the beginning of his match against Kevin Anderson.
Yet the first set came so easily to him that none of us could bat an eyelid or pick a glaring flaw with his form. From the second set the battle became intense and briefly Federer charged in and took that set too.
Leading two sets to love, Federer, the King of Grass, haplessly found himself losing a match point in the third set and subsequently found the rest of the match being carried away by the big-serving Anderson from South Africa who made the best of this opportunity. The defeat came as a shock, not only to every supporter but to Roger himself.
“So no, I didn’t see it coming. From that standpoint, I felt great in practice, good in the warmup. I’m feeling the ball well. Even now losing, I still felt like the feeling is there. It was just happened to be that today wasn’t the day.”, said a dejected Federer in the post-match interview.
Things definitely look different this time of the year around with Novak Djokovic back on the prowl.
The Serb has rediscovered his form after giving the 2017 US Open a miss owing to surgery. Djokovic has improved considerably and is showing the side of his greatness when he won the Wimbledon in July.
In the run-up to the end-August Grand Slam, Djokovic won the Cincinnati Masters by defeating Roger in the finals. Federer, faced with Djokovic after a long time, looked nervous from the beginning of the match when he gave away easy break points in the first game to the Serb who converted it in no time.
In the second set, Federer did break Djokovic but he broke the Swiss back in the 7th game of the second set to claim the title and create history by becoming the first player to complete his Career Golden Masters.
One wonders what Federer is to do now that age has been getting to him finally at the crucial points of do-or-die matches.
With old rivals like Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic discovering themselves all over again and newer threats like Kevin Anderson and Milos Raonic cropping up on the circuit scene, Federer needs to find his rhythm back at those crucial moments if he is to realise his dream of a 21st Grand Slam.
It is like the old times again but age has numbered disadvantageously for the Swiss great.
At 37, with the magic in his racquet and the swiftness of his glide, can Federer find himself another magic spell to cast and become invincible again?
Can he claw out of the twilight zone he is dwelling in unwillingly and climb up to the light once more and shine bright or is it too late to try with the age in hot pursuit of crippling him?
As the curtains slowly lift with Federer taking the court against Yoshihito Nishioka on 29th of August and the Arthur Ashe Stadium fills to the brim, the spotlight will waver around for the following two weeks in hunt of the new Championship hero.
With impatient anticipation brewing in the hearts and the minds, our eyes will follow the trail of that spotlight which by then would have chosen and found it's true occupant.
The suspense is unbearable but the lingering question remains as we ponder will that spotlight illuminate the figure of a Roger Federer pirouetting to perfection with the magical halo emanating from his being and installing him as the hero all over again?
Can Federer win the US Open title? Sound off your opinions in the comments section below!Published 28 Aug 2018, 21:44 IST