New York: 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 last week 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.
“Even though I reached almost all my goals already this year by securing a medal, winning Wimbledon, and getting back to world No. 1, it’s important for me to push forward,” said Federer.
His record at the majors remains one of outstanding consistency - he has reached the quarter-finals or better at 33 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments.
“It’s a completely different atmosphere in New York. The pressure is going to be different,” said Federer, who has scores to settle over the next two weeks.
Despite beating Djokovic in Cincinnati, to follow his win over the Serb in the semi-finals at Wimbledon, he is still pained by throwing away a two-sets to love lead and match point in the US Open semi-finals last year against the world number two.
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 Serb, five years younger than Federer, is adamant that the key to beating the great Swiss is not to be cowed by his opponent’s reputation.
“He has won everything that a tennis player can win and he’s coming back for more. He has a lot of respect from me, from all the players. There is no question about it,” said Djokovic.
“But we are all rivals, we are all opponents. I don’t think about his history or his success or whatever too much when I’m on the court. I just want to win that match.”
In the absence of seven-time French Open champion Nadal, who hasn’t played since his shock second round exit at Wimbledon, Andy 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.
“Sometimes I’ve won tournaments in the build-up (to a major) and it hasn’t helped me,” said 25-year-old Murray, shrugging off the setbacks.
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.