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US Open Preview

After a truly mind-boggling year of men’s tennis, the focus shifts to New York and the final Grand Slam of what has been a memorable season.

And if the last few weeks are anything to go by, events in the Big Apple could be just as dramatic – and surprising – as those that have held tennis fans spellbound since January.

Here are five key storylines we’ll be keeping an eye on at the 2017 US Open…

1) Can Federer make more history?

Even after a recent minor back injury that hampered him during defeat to Alexander Zverev in the Montreal final and that forced him to skip Cincinnati the following week, most experts will have Roger Federer in pole position when it comes to favourites for the men’s singles title at Flushing Meadows.

Now 36 years of age and a father of four, Federer has been back to his brilliant best during 2017 en route to landing five titles – including his 18th and 19th Grand Slam trophies – as well as two Masters 1000s in Indian Wells and Miami in the spring.

Although the man himself is playing down his chances of landing a 20th major, with the draw missing defending champion Stan Wawrinka, former world No.1s Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, Milos Raonic and a recent finalist in Kei Nishikori, another Federer success story may be in store.

“I know if I stay in shape there are chances for me to do well at the US Open, but to win it? Yeah, at some stage I almost feel like I have to be realistic,” said the Swiss star, who won five consecutive US Open titles between 2004 and 2008. “I am not 25 any more. I’m not sure I can win three slams in one year. Winning two is already pretty crazy and plenty good enough for me.”

Should Federer achieve the unthinkable, he would celebrate a men’s Open era record of six US Open singles titles – one more than Jimmy Connors and Pete Sampras.

2) Sascha’s sensational summer

Nothing is guaranteed in professional sport, however, and there are 127 men assembled in the Big Apple determined to spoil Federer’s party. And for the first time at a Grand Slam, Sascha Zverev’s name can be added to the list of realistic title contenders.

After sensationally winning his first Masters 1000 title by beating Djokovic in the Rome final in May, the 20-year-old German claimed his second Masters crown of the year in Montreal to cap an incredible two weeks on tour. First he chalked up five victories to bag his first ATP 500 trophy in Washington, before scoring his first win over Federer in the Canadian showpiece seven days later. Despite understandably running out of steam in Cincinnati, Zverev will arrive in New York rested, confident and with a useful seeding now he is firmly established inside the world’s top ten.

3) Those who can go deep…

Aside from Federer and Zverev, former champions Rafael Nadal – who will arrive in New York once more as world No.1 – Juan Martin Del Potro and Marin Cilic will all fancy their chances once the dangerous early rounds have been negotiated.

Nadal arrives on the back of surprise defeats to Denis Shapovalov in the teenager’s backyard in Montreal and Nick Kyrgios in the last eight in Cincinnati, while Cilic is another former winner whose main priority will be to start 100 per cent fit from an abductor injury that kept him sidelined following the Croat’s first Wimbledon final.

Others to follow closely include Kyrgios – particularly after he reminded the tennis world of his quality in blowing Nadal off court in Ohio – Dominic Thiem, and Grigor Dimitrov, who will start in New York brimming with improved self-belief after winning his first Masters title in Cincinnati.

4) Keep an eye on…

Every Grand Slam fortnight throws up a handful of unexpected runs and results and among those who could cash in on either strong crowd support, recent good form – or both – are Americans John Isner, Sam Querrey, and #NextGenATP stars Jared Donaldson and Frances Tiafoe.

Isner has always been at his most dangerous on lively American hard courts and will start as the US No.1 after back-to-back titles in Newport and Atlanta as well as a run to the last four in Cincinnati.

Querrey too will step into New York’s cauldron of noise on the back of some big wins, most notably at Wimbledon where he took down Murray en route to the last four. In early August he ruled in Los Cabos, and the quality he produced to brush aside Nadal in the Acapulco final earlier this year was another reminder of the danger he can pose.

Donaldson and Tiafoe might find it slightly harder to go deep in New York, but both will attract their fair share of support after recent ranking moves. Donaldson, 20, currently occupies third spot in the Emirates ATP Race to Milan following his first Masters quarter-final in Cincinnati while explosive 19-year-old Tiafoe scored his first top ten win over Zverev the same week.

Honourable mentions go to Kevin Anderson – runner-up in Washington and a quarter-finalist in Montreal and once more starting to look like a top ten player after recent injury problems. And the tricky left-hander from Luxembourg, Gilles Muller, is having his best year on tour at the ripe old age of 34 having ended Nadal’s Wimbledon adventure in that five-set thriller. He’ll be hoping to feed off the feel-good factor having made the quarter-finals at Flushing Meadows back in 2008.

5) Dynamic duos

Twelve months ago it was Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares who combined to get their hands on the US Open trophy, but this summer it’s the pair of Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert who will arrive enjoying arguably the hottest form on tour.

The Frenchmen teamed up to win back-to-back titles in Montreal and Cincinnati – their fifth and sixth Masters 1000 titles together. Having captured those trophies in six different cities, they require only three more – in Madrid, Shanghai and on home soil in Paris – to complete a rare set of the nine different Masters trophies.

“We’re having a good run,” said Herbert. “It’s our second straight title in Cincinnati and we’re looking forward to a third at the US Open.”