NEW YORK (Reuters) - Roger Federer achieved tennis greatness with an intoxicating blend of athleticism, artistry and unflinching nerve. Yet for all his fluid genius, the measure of a career often boils down to cold numbers.
Seventeen grand slam singles titles, three more than any man who has played the game, have been won by the Swiss maestro.
But it is eight grand slam events and counting since the graceful sportsman, who ticked off major accomplishments like clockwork during his years of dominance, has won a grand slam.
At age 33, with the clock ticking down on an extraordinary career, the father of two sets of twins faces a golden opportunity to add to his majestic legacy at the U.S. Open starting on Monday at the U.S. National Tennis Center.
Federer is in form and his primary nemesis, 2013 U.S. Open winner Rafa Nadal, has withdrawn due to a wrist injury, elevating the Swiss to second seed and ensuring he can only meet top seed Novak Djokovic should they both reach the final.
World number two Nadal, the Spaniard with 14 major titles of his own, has beaten Federer 23 times in 33 career meetings, and taken nine of their 11 career collisions in grand slams.
The other member of the ‘Big Four’ who have dominated men’s tennis the past decade, 2012 U.S. Open winner and 2013 Wimbledon champion Andy Murray of Britain, is still struggling to regain top form after having back surgery, further suggesting a possible storybook run by Federer.
After a disappointing 2013 season in which Federer was affected by a bad back, sceptics wondered whether he might be heading down a slippery slope towards retirement.
Federer believed otherwise, proclaiming his continuing love for the game, even down to the long hours of practice, and insisted he would remain a grand slam threat.
The Swiss marvel has proved there is plenty left in the tank.
Federer has been the best player over these summer months, battling Djokovic in an epic five-set Wimbledon final before falling just short, and reaching four successive finals during the lead-in to the U.S. Open including a victory at the Masters 1000 Western & Southern in Cincinnati.
He scoffed at the notion of an imminent changing of the guard after impressive results from some young, big hitters at Wimbledon, including semi-finalists Milos Raonic of Canada and Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, and Australian teenager Nick Kyrgios, who was ranked 144th when he ousted Nadal in the fourth round.
“If I'm playing well I feel like I can control the field to a degree,” said Federer.
“I do believe the top guys are the ones we know and who are still going to be deciding outcomes of the bigger tournaments, like the Masters 1000s and the grand slams and the World Tour Finals.”
He may well have more to add beyond his record streak of reaching 23 successive grand slam semi-finals through the 2010 Australian Open.
Beyond his record 36 consecutive grand slam quarter-finals through the 2013 French Open.
Beyond the 10 successive grand slam finals he appeared in through the 2007 U.S. Open.
A victory at Flushing Meadows would make him the oldest grand slam winner since Andrew Gimeno won the 1972 French Open at 34, and oldest U.S. Open champion since Ken Rosewall’s triumph as a 35 year old in 1970.
Victory for Federer would bring him a sixth U.S. crown, snapping his tie with Jimmy Connors and Pete Sampras once again allowing him to hoist a gleaming grand slam trophy - a sensation he has enjoyed more than any man in tennis.
(Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Gene Cherry)