Hungry Nadal targets the missing jewel in his crown

Federer will be the Spaniards main rival again in New York

Hungry Nadal targets the missing jewel in his crown

Top-seeded Nadal has overtaken Roger Federer as world number one and major championship favourite, and shown he can cut it on the grass by winning his second Wimbledon this year.

Now the stage is set for the heavy-hitting Mallorcan to lift the one major missing from his collection and prove he is a man for all seasons and courts by adding to his five French, two Wimbledons and Australian title for a career Grand Slam.

But Nadal, 24, has never reached the final of the bruising hardcourt test in Flushing Meadows, too often worn out by the last Grand Slam of the season to thrive on the fast, rubberised concrete courts that have tested his troublesome knees.

Fit, well rested, hungry and armed with an improved volley to better shorten points, the left-hander looks poised for a breakthrough that could sweetly come in an Arthur Ashe Stadium finale against the second-seeded Federer. 

"I am perfect mentally," French and Wimbledon champion Nadal, winner of five events this year, said when he started his hardcourt buildup this month for an assault on the Open.

However, 29-year-old Federer is not about to hand the keys to New York over to Nadal without a fight. The Swiss master, whose string of five successive US Open titles ended in a five-set loss to Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina in last year's final, revved his engines for another Flushing Meadows campaign by winning the run-up event in Cincinnati after reaching the final in Toronto.

The men's tournament at the National Tennis Center, of course, is not a two-man affair.
Third seed Novak Djokovic of Serbia looms as a possible semifinals hurdle for Federer, while fourth-seeded, in-form Briton Andy Murray could block Nadal's path to the final.
While Djokovic has been battling health issues that might slow him down at the Open, Murray should have an added bounce to his step after beating Nadal and Federer to win in Toronto.

Two other players banging on the Grand Slam door are Robin Soderling of Sweden and Czech Tomas Berdych.

Wide open
Line judges can relax, Serena Williams will not be gunning for her fourth US Open title.
Her withdrawal after slicing her foot on a piece of broken glass in July will allow match officials to breathe a little easier safe in the knowledge that there will no repeat of her foul-mouthed outburst of last year.

But rather than detract from the tournament, the American's absence has unwittingly laid the foundations for one of the most wide-open women's Grand Slam events in years.

The depth in women's tennis has rarely been stronger and while Serena has been the dominant player for most of the past decade, there are many players willing to step up.

At least a dozen players hold genuine hopes of winning the  tournament, but the favourite with oddsmakers and sentimentalists is Belgian's Kim Clijsters, a two-time winner in New York and this year's second seed behind Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki.

Wozniacki looks to be hitting peak form at the right time after winning in Montreal and New Haven. If she wins her first Grand Slam title this year at the US Open could overtake Serena Williams as the world number one. "My goal for now is just to try to win a Grand Slam and the number one spot is secondary to that," she said.

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