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By Richard Pagliaro | Thursday, August 24, 2017

Roger Federer

"If Roger wins (the US Open), this will be one of the great stories in the last 50 years or ever,” says Hall of Famer John McEnroe.

Photo credit: US Open Facebook

Roger Federer looms so large over New York City pedestrians pause in his path to stare from the sidewalk.

The massive Nike billboard of Federer and his new kicks stops some bustling New Yorkers in their tracks snapping photos of the Grand Slam king.

McEnroe: Dimitrov Can Reach US Open Final

If the 19-time Grand Slam champion captures his first US Open championship in nine years, it will eclipse anything the Open has seen in the Open Era says Hall of Famer and New York native John McEnroe.

“If Roger wins this, this will be one of the great stories in the last 50 years or ever,” McEnroe said in an ESPN conference call with the media to promote the network’s US Open coverage, which starts on Monday at 1 p.m. on ESPN.

Iconic rivals Federer and Rafael Nadal gave the tennis world a five-set dream duel at the Australian Open in January.

They’ve already crossed paths in practice this week and if they square off in Flushing Meadows it could set off a tennis celebration rivaling New Year’s Eve in Times Square.

Four-time US Open champion McEnroe says a Federer-Nadal showdown for the US Open title—and world No. 1 ranking— would be the ultimate climax to the Slam season, but seriously doubts we will see it happen.

“The first part of it is unlikely, even though they are going to be the two favorites, because it's never happened,” McEnroe told Tennis Now. “The odds, even with Roger to win three majors out of four, would be astounding. Rafa has not done as well on the hard courts.

“Would I like that would be like the ultimate, you know, to me. That would be the most fantastic year ending situation for tennis if these guys play, having Roger, potentially, for the No. 1 ranking. So that would be absolutely outstanding.”

Long-time coach Severin Luthi says Federer is eager for his New York return.

"I don't like to compare [his form now] to a few years ago and it is difficult to,'' Luthi told the New York Post's Marc Berman. "Most important for us is that Roger is still hungry and willing to improve every day. After everything he has done and already won, the results this year have been amazing."

Six-time US Open champion Chrissie Evert was court-side in Montreal when Federer, bothered by an apparent back strain, fell to Alexander Zverev. It was Federer's first loss in six tournament finals this season as his 16-match winning streak came to a close.

It was the first match all season that the 36-year-old Swiss did not hold a match point. Evert asserts the back issue combined with playing best-of-five sets in what she calls the most physically punishing of the four Grand Slam tournaments will conspire against the father of two sets of twins.

“I think this is going to be a really tough tournament for Roger to win because of the three out of five sets in the heat,” Evert told Tennis Now. “I think that it would be phenomenal if he did win. It would be the best year he's ever had in his career, winning three Grand Slams, at his age. He should be Sports Illustrated Athlete of the Year. He should be in everybody's Athlete of the Year if he does that.

“But I think for Roger, it's going to be hard. It's going to be I think that three out of five sets if it was two out of three sets, I would say he's got a great shot at winning. But for some reason and I know how I felt when I played at 34 years old, and he's 36 years old, it's going to be tough three out of five sets to maintain that level of consistency and fitness over a period of two weeks.”

The last time Federer arrived in Flushing Meadows with a back issue, the results were not pretty.

Tommy Robredo denied 14 of 16 break points to topple a grimacing Federer, 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-4, in the 2013 fourth round.

It was Federer’s first straight-sets loss in Flushing Meadows since he suffered a three-set defeat to his former doubles partner, Max Mirnyi, in the fourth round of the 2002 US Open and ensured the end of an era: For the first time since 2002, Federer would not contest a Grand Slam final in a calendar year.

While both Federer and Nadal remain the oddsmakers favorites, ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert, who coached against both men, says the first week will reveal the state of the Swiss maestro’s health and game.

“Before Montreal I would have told you Fed was a huge favorite to win the Open based on what I saw from him at Indian Wells, Miami and Wimbledon,” Gilbert told the media in an ESPN conference call today. “And I would have said he’s a huge favorite. But then all of a sudden maybe now with the back issue it’s almost like you have to see him for the first couple of rounds.

“I actually think now that will give a little hope to the rest of the field and the draw. And he’s never made it past the round of 16 but I do think Zverev is ready to win a major. I think he’s that capable. He would probably be my second choice. If Fed is healthy, he’s my favorite and I would say Zverev is my second favorite to win the tournament.”

Still, if Federer is healthy the typically fast Flushing Meadows court should suit his attacking game.

McEnroe says the stamina Federer displayed outdueling three Top 10 opponents in grueling five set matches—Kei Nishikori, Stan Wawrinka and Nadal—en route to the Australian Open title followed by the dynamic first-strike tennis he showed winning Wimbledon without surrendering a set as one of the most astounding achievements he’s seen in the sport.

“This is an amazing thing what he's done at his age,” McEnroe said. “He won three five setters in Australia. It's not exactly cool down there, either. He played Wimbledon without losing a single set. I just saw him today because we were just doing a little press conference for the Laver Cup and I was just like, I've got to tell you, this is absolutely just hats off. I've watched tennis for 40, 50 years. I've never seen anything like this.”

The lofty level Federer has shown posting a 35-3 record and winning five titles in eight tournaments starts this season prompted Evert to jokingly wonder whether Federer had been cloned during his six-month break following knee surgery last year.

“Yeah, he came back, it was ridiculous. He's a different person,” Evert said. “It's like his clone has come back. He's so light on his feet, the way he's moving around the court, and hopefully after I was sitting on the court, actually, in Montreal when he tweaked his lower back, and it was really evident that something was wrong with him. You never know. He doesn't say much about his injuries and he made no excuses after that match.

“But hopefully that's the other thing, is hopefully he's healthy. I mean, that back has caused him problems in the past, and you get older and you don't mend as quickly. So hopefully he's 100 percent, because the hard court, as John was saying, the hard court is the worst thing in the world for your joints and your lower back. And playing five sets, that's going to be tough.”

The question is: Can Federer fight through physical questions and sometimes challenging conditions—though the first-week forecast calls for mild temperatures—and be himself?

If Federer can capture his third Grand Slam in a single season for the third time in his career it will cap the greatest season of his career says Gilbert.

“If Fed were to win the Open if he’s not the athlete of the year on every kind of publication it will be the greatest injustice that I’ve probably ever seen for tennis,” Gilbert said. “It will be his greatest year without a doubt. He’s pushing the limits to what we’ve ever seen from a 36 year old in tennis. It’s just been an absolute pleasure to watch.”


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