US Open Men’s Preview: Opportunity of a Lifetime?

“The report of my death was an exaggeration.” – Mark Twain

Just around this time last year, the tennis obituary for Roger Federer was almost printed. His one-sided loss to Tommy Robredo in the US Open fourth round had many nodding in agreement, that yes, this was the beginning of the end of the great Federer’s career and his days contending for Grand Slams was over.

That Federer now enters the last major of this year as the favorite for many makes those earlier pronouncements of last rites for the Swiss star’s career look presumptuous, or perhaps, just plain foolhardy.

This season for Federer continues to be one of resurrection. Healthier than he was last year, Federer is playing with the same verve and command as he did a decade ago. He’s also serving and volleying more than ever, something many begged him to do. That’s due in large part to his work with Stefan Edberg, the Swedish great known for his cool carvings up at the net. That combination had many thinking Federer just might win Wimbledon one more time earlier this summer. He didn’t, of course, and that brought back the debate of if Federer missed his last and perhaps best chance to win major No. 18. But as at Wimbledon, Federer is on the short list of true contenders, even before his chief rival and last year’s US Open winner announced he couldn’t defend his title.

Defending champion Rafael Nadal, after suffering a wrist injury, withdrew from all hard court events including the US Open. It’s another disappointment for Nadal after sweeping the North American swing last year. While Nadal is expected to return soon, this latest injury drama for the Spaniard again has started its own discussion of how much longer Nadal’s body can hold up and what might have been if Rafa had not suffered so many physical setbacks, again another fatalistic talking point that many seem to want to dwell on.

With Nadal out of New York, that creates more chances not just for Federer but several others in the draw. That is, if they are ready for it. Take, for example, top seed Novak Djokovic.

After his Wimbledon triumph, the Serb has looked ragged and out of sorts this summer. He claimed earlier that he just doesn’t feel comfortable on the court right now. Which begs the question – What the hell is exactly wrong with Djokovic? Is he still recovering from Wimbledon? Did his recent honeymoon celebration wear him out? Or is his impending fatherhood dividing his focus? Emotional ups and down have always been a boon and bust for the Serb and he may well go through several more before his two weeks in New York are over.

Stan Wawrinka, a semifinalist last year, is another that we aren’t quite sure where his head is of late. Winning Melbourne seemed to put him in a tailspin for most of the spring. He certainly could challenge again in New York, but one would not call him a real threat, yet.

Lifting the trophy on the final Sunday, or Monday, given recent weather forecasts, for several other players would, for them, signal a rebirth.

Andy Murray, who won it all back in 2012, continues his return after back surgery last year and his split with coach Ivan Lendl. Now working with Amelie Mauresmo, the Scot made two quarters in Canada and Cincinnati. Some think he has an shot at beating Djokovic should they meet in the quarterfinals. However, if Murray does not make a deep run this time in New York, it will likely inspire more debate on if perhaps Murray’s career has, in fact, peaked. That’s tennis. No one is immune from being second guessed on recent results.

A few others will seek to redefine their own careers, especially if they can win a first ever major title.

France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, almost consigned to irrelevant status after a lackluster season, turned things around in Toronto. By beating four top ten players up north, Tsonga proved again he can beat anyone, anywhere when he plays his very best. But repeating that form in New York will be tough, though not impossible. Seeing Tsonga blaze through the field again would be like seeing Hailey’s Comet flash across the sky earlier than its expected every 75 year timetable. It might happen, but don’t count on it.

A pair of not so “young guns” in Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic would certainly love to add a Grand Slam title to their resumes. Dimitrov, for one, would finally break free of the burden of that terrible “Baby Fed” moniker and also being better known as Maria’s Sharapova’s paramour. Raonic, who acts so serious, so focused all the time, it makes one wonder if he’s ever had a paramour, would make more Canadian history and lay potential claim to the No. 1 ranking down the road.

Whatever the outcome and no matter who wins, the inevitable announcements that this year’s US Open results will clearly suggest future ones should all be considered, and then dismissed, at the same time. Federer, as with all of his fellow pros, fortunately are able to define their careers on their terms, win or lose. If Federer had decided to leave the sport after his loss last year, he, and we, would not have the opportunity to find out if he indeed has another major title run in him. Something to look forward to as this year’s US Open gets underway.

And that, is no exaggeration.

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