US Open 2019

A surprise if 'Big 3' don't win: Federer

Serb Novak Djokovic, coached by Goran Ivanisevic, is aiming to become the first man to win back-to-back US Open titles since Roger Federer in 2008.
Serb Novak Djokovic, coached by Goran Ivanisevic, is aiming to become the first man to win back-to-back US Open titles since Roger Federer in 2008. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Swiss ace admits it's hard for the rest to end reign of dominant trio who have won last 11 Grand Slams

NEW YORK • While a host of young rivals hope to disrupt the dominance of the "Big Three" in men's tennis, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer again remain the US Open favourites.

The year's final Grand Slam starts tomorrow on the Flushing Meadows hard courts with top-ranked Djokovic, Federer and Nadal having won the past 11 Slams.

But 20-time Grand Slam champion Federer does not see a problem with the dominance by the trio, who together own 54 of the past 65 Slam crowns.

"I don't think it's a problem," said the 38-year-old, who is refreshed after a family caravan vacation around the Swiss countryside to get over his heartbreaking Wimbledon final loss to Djokovic last month.

"Now that Novak, Rafa and me are healthy again, Andy (Murray) also slowly coming back again, it has made it much harder for young guys to come through.

"They are definitely knocking on the door. I think that's very encouraging for those who want to see somebody else win.

"But I think also Novak's domination, Rafa's domination is also not normal for the game. It seems like the same guys are the favourites again this time around. It will be a surprise if anybody else won."

Third seed Federer also throws in a chance for Swiss compatriot Stan Wawrinka, who, like Britain's injured Murray, has won three Grand Slam. The 34-year-old Wawrinka was also the last player besides the "Big Three" to have won a Slam title - in New York in 2016.

Defending champion Djokovic, seeking a 17th Slam title, has won four of the past five major tournaments, denied only by Nadal's 12th French Open win in June.

Although no men's champion has retained the US Open crown since Federer in 2008, Djokovic can take encouragement from a fine run in recent years.

Apart from 2017, when he missed out through injury, the Serb has reached at least the semi-finals every year since 2007.

The 32-year-old says he has adjusted to the extra pressure of defending over the years.

"It's a paramount challenge to defend a Grand Slam title," Djokovic said. "These are the tournaments you want to win the most. This is where you want to shine."

The 33-year-old Spaniard Nadal has made an impressive run with titles in Rome, Roland Garros and Montreal and a Wimbledon semi-final loss to Federer.

"Arrive to the big events with good feelings helps," said the 18-time Grand Slam winner.

"Positive feeling helps for the confidence. For the moment I am feeling well. I am practising well during the whole week, I will push a little bit more and try to start the tournament in a good way."

Among the youngsters trying to make a breakthrough is 23-year-old Russian Daniil Medvedev, who has enjoyed a stellar US Open run-up that included beating Djokovic en route to winning the Cincinnati Masters last week.

Germany's sixth-ranked Alexander Zverev, 22, highlighted the threat of Japan's seventh-seeded Kei Nishikori, 29, the 2014 US Open runner-up, and Greece's eighth-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas, 21.

"There are a few guys that have a real shot to win it," Zverev said.

"Obviously the 'Big Three' we don't need to talk about. But there are other guys that have been playing great tennis and will be able to do some damage."


Three outsiders to watch


World ranking: 5 Best Slam: 4th round (Australian Open 2019) Best US Open: 3rd round, 2018 He had the finest hard court run (31-8) of any ATP player ahead of the US Open, reaching the final at Washington and Montreal and winning his fifth career Tour title at Cincinnati.

He lost to Australian Nick Kyrgios in Washington and Rafael Nadal in Montreal before beating world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and later David Goffin in Cincinnati, jumping three spots to fifth in the world rankings.


World ranking: 10 Best Slam: S-finals (Wimbledon 2019) Best US Open: 4th round, 2014 & 2015

He is enjoying a breakthrough year and hoping to reach his maiden Grand Slam final.

The Spaniard, who has nine career titles, cracked the world top 10 for the first time on Monday. He reached his first Grand Slam quarter-final at this year's Australian Open, and improved on that by reaching the semi-final at Wimbledon, losing to eventual champion Djokovic. In his US Open tune-ups, he lost quarter-final matches at Montreal and Cincinnati.


World ranking: 27 Best Slam: 3rd round (US Open 2018, Australian Open 2019) Best US Open: 3rd round, 2018

He won his first title in June on grass in Eastbourne, England, and reached hard court finals in Atlanta, United States and Los Cabos, Mexico. Since April, the 1.93m Fritz has climbed 38 spots in the rankings.

Coached by David Nainkin and Paul Annacone, Fritz has become a more consistent competitor, improving his return of serve and his baseline game to complement a powerful serve.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 25, 2019, with the headline 'A surprise if 'Big 3' don't win: Federer'. Print Edition | Subscribe