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Djokovic eyes third US Open title as Big 4 reunite

NEW YORK (AFP) – From the pits of despair in Paris, record-setting 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.

‘‘He’s a great champion,’’ said Federer in praise of Djokovic in Cincinnati.

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.

‘‘I cannot forget that I am older every year.’’

Federer also knows that the clock is ticking.

The 20-time Grand Slam winner won the last of his five US Opens in 2008.

Now 37, Federer would become the oldest New York champion in the Open era should he lift the trophy again on September 9 and second oldest of all time.

But he was knocked out by 2009 champion Juan Martin del Potro in the quarter-finals last year having had to negotiate two five-setters in the opening rounds.

Despite defending his Austra­lian Open title in January, Feder­er’s hopes of a ninth Wimbledon were blown apart in a five-set loss to Kevin Anderson in the quarter-finals.

It was his earliest exit at the All England Club in five years.

‘‘I won the US Open five times. So I stand here pretty happy, to be quite honest. It’s not like, God, the US Open nev­er worked out for me. It hasn’t the last couple years, but it’s all good,’’ said the Swiss leg­end who begins against injury-plagued Japanese left-hander Yoshihito Nishioka.

Murray, the 2012 champion, is set to play his first Slam since a hip injury suffered at Wimbledon last year.