The Big Four of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray – all former US Open champions – have emerged once more as favorites to claim the men’s title at the 2014 US Open. Having already captured the title in Flushing, these men know what it takes to string seven matches together amid the myriad distractions that inevitably accompany the two weeks of a Grand Slam – and that oftentimes provides the ultimate advantage.
That’s a hurdle that emerging young stars such as Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic still need to clear, and it’s one that Federer’s Swiss countryman, Stanislas Wawrinka, winner of this year’s Australian Open, still needs to surpass if this Big Four is to become a Fab Five.
Here’s where the recent champs stand as the Open approaches:
Novak Djokovic: Opponents know this about Djokovic: winning a US Open title almost assuredly means having to beat the remarkably consistent Serb along the way. The 2011 US Open winner and five-time Open finalist – including the last four in a row – comes to New York carrying a streak of 13 Grand Slam events dating back to the 2011 French Open in which he has either a) won the tournament (five times), or b) lost to the eventual winner. The 27-year-old has won titles on all three surfaces in 2014 and has earned the Open’s top seed for the third time in four years. Add in the fact that Djokovic swept both American hard-court Masters in the spring – in Indian Wells and Miami – and he seems a solid pick to be playing in Flushing’s final weekend again in 2014.
Roger Federer: Not since Andre Agassi in 2005 has a player past the age of 30 reached a US Open final, but Federer, who turned 33 on Aug. 8, will play in his 15th main draw looking to do just that – and claim what would be an Open era-best sixth title at the American Slam. Federer hadn’t reached a major final in two years before advancing to the championship match at Wimbledon’s in July, pushing Djokovic to five tough sets. During his Wimbledon run, the all-time leader in Grand Slam singles titles looked very much like the Federer of old, dropping just one set in six matches before the showdown with Djokovic. Federer also has won a pair of titles in 2014, in Dubai and Halle, propelling himself to No. 3 in the world.
Andy Murray: Murray, 27, has endured a trying 2014 campaign, starting with his springtime separation from coach Ivan Lendl. He turned to Amelie Mauresmo after losing in the French Open semifinals, making the former Australian Open and Wimbledon winner the first woman to guide a men’s Grand Slam champion. Still, the Scot saw his 17-match win streak at the All-England Club snapped in the Wimbledon quarterfinals, where he lost to Dimitrov. Murray hasn’t won a tournament all season, nor has he reached a final. Yet he’s healthy and heading back to the tournament he calls his favorite. In New York, he’ll no doubt be eager to rebound and attempt to rise back toward Top 5 status – and as a former champion and a two-time finalist, he has good memories to draw on as he makes that charge.
Rafael Nadal: Since reigning US Open champion Nadal took his ninth Roland Garros title in June, the summer has gone from disappointing to debilitating. He lost to teenager Nick Kyrgios in the fourth round at Wimbledon. Then, at the end of July, the 28-year-old injured his right wrist and withdrew from both the Rogers Cup and the Western & Southern Open, tournaments at which he also was defending champion. He’s currently practicing while wearing a cast to protect the wrist, hoping that the extra weeks away from competition will help him heal in time for New York. If healthy, he will be tough to beat. In fact, Nadal has reached the final at the last three Opens in which he’s played – he also sat out with an injury in 2012 – winning twice.
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