Rejuvenated Djokovic eyes US Open as ‘Big Four’ reunited

New York: Novak Djokovic now eyes a third US Open title in New York where for the first time since Wimbledon last year, the sport’s ‘Big Four’ will be reunited.

Djokovic became the first man to win all nine Masters titles with victory over Roger Federer at Cincinnati on Sunday. Having captured, against all the odds, a fourth Wimbledon in July, the 31- year-old Serb suddenly finds himself as joint-favourite with world number one Rafael Nadal to triumph at Flushing Meadows.

Champion in 2011 and 2015, and a five-time runner-up, Djokovic sat out the 2017 US Open to nurse an elbow injury. His physical limitations were still evident when he slumped away from Roland Garros in June after a shock quarter-final loss to journeyman Marco Cecchinato, threatening to skip Wimbledon to mend his shattered self-confidence.

Fast forward three months and Djokovic is once again the man to beat.”It’s a wonderful feeling. It’s been a couple of tough months for me with an injury but then winning Wimbledon and Cincinnati,” said Djokovic who opens his US Open campaign against Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics.

Djokovic’s Wimbledon triumph took his Grand Slam title collection to 13, just one behind Pete Sampras. He also has 31 Masters, two back from Nadal but four more than Federer.

He will head for New York buoyed by his dominance over his three major rivals as well — he leads Nadal 27-25, Federer 24-22 and Andy Murray 25-11. World number one Nadal, who won the US Open last year to add to his 2010 and 2013 victories, skipped Cincinnati after triumphing in Toronto the week before. The Spaniard clinched an 11th French Open in June to take his majors tally to 17 before falling to Djokovic in a five-set, 5-hour 15-minute semi-final loss at Wimbledon.

“Tennis is a high-demanding sport in terms of physical effort,” said 32-year-old Nadal who faces an emotional first round against compatriot David Ferrer who will be playing his last Slam before retirement.

Murray, the 2012 champion, is set to play his first Slam since a hip injury suffered at Wimbledon last year. His comeback has been far from smooth after spending almost a year on the sidelines and has played only seven matches since his return.

Serena Williams, riding an emotional rollercoaster as she adapts to juggling tennis and motherhood seeks to end 2018 on a high with a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title at the US Open.

The US great counts six US Open victories among her 23 Slams and with one more would match Australian Margaret Court’s record for most major singles titles.

She could also join Court, Evonne Goolagong and Kim Clijsters as the only mothers to win Grand Slam singles titles, but since an impressive run to the Wimbledon final — where she fell to Angelique Kerber — Williams has endured a lacklustre buildup to the hardcourt showpiece in Flushing Meadows.

“I’m still at the very beginning, this is a long comeback,” she defiantly told reporters after a second-round loss to Petra Kvitova — winner of five titles this year — in Cincinnati.

Her game is worryingly inconsistent in six tournaments so far this year — including the French Open where she withdrew before the fourth round with a pectoral injury.

“Basically, my whole game needs to improve,” “I have to just be happy, continue to work hard. I’ve been working incredibly hard. I feel like it will for sure pay off eventually.

Awarded the 17th seeding, nine spots above her world ranking, Williams nevertheless faces a tough early road with a potential third-round clash with her sister Venus and a possible fourth- rounder against world number one and top seed Simona Halep.

Halep arrives at Flushing Meadows buoyed not only by her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros but by an impressive hardcourt campaign that included a victory in Montreal followed by a
runner-up finish in Cincinnati.

The Romanian has reached six finals this year, displaying a new maturity on the court. ‘Now she’s understanding what the problems are when she gets a little bit emotional how many points in a row she’s losing because of that’ Halep’s coach Darren Cahill said.