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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Nadal, Federer and Del Potro carefully manage their fitness to peak at US Open

Top three men's seeds have played selective schedules in the build-up to the fourth and final grand slam of the season

Rafael Nadal addresses the media ahead of the 2018 US Open. EPA
Rafael Nadal addresses the media ahead of the 2018 US Open. EPA

Fitness appears to be the underlying concern for the men’s top seeds as Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Juan Martin del Potro all aim to peak at the US Open.

World No 1, top seed and defending champion Nadal arrived in New York having won the Rogers Cup earlier this month, but the outing in Toronto was the Spaniard’s only hard court tournament in the build-up to the final grand slam of the season.

Nadal, 32, is no stranger to injury and his selective schedule this season has been created to ensure he is in the best possible condition for the grand slams, hence his decision to withdraw from the Cincinnati Open following his Rogers Cup success.

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Nadal insisted his lack of hard court tournaments will not put him at a disadvantage, and that his victory in Toronto has provided plenty of confidence heading into the US Open.

“It was preparation. I was resting of competing, not resting of working,” said Nadal, who begins his bid for a fourth title at Flushing Meadows against compatriot David Ferrer on Monday.

“Of course, it is important what happened before a grand slam. If you are playing well before, it’s easier to play well in a grand slam.

“At the same time, it’s true that especially a few players are able to increase the level of concentration, the level of tennis, level of intensity in some places. If you have to do it, this is one of the places.”

Second seed Federer has also had a limited schedule this season with the aim of being ready for the grand slam tournaments, although the 37-year-old Swiss missed the entire clay-court season, and thus the French Open, altogether.

After two years of injury issues, which saw him withdraw from the 2015 US Open with a knee complaint and struggle through to last year’s quarter-finals with a back problem, Federer enters this year’s event with a clean bill of health.

“It’s even bigger of a priority this year – not that it wasn’t last year,” said Federer, who takes on Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka in the first round. “I'm really excited and happy to be back here healthy again and feeling good and, you know, take it one match at a time and see what happens.”

Like Nadal, Federer has only competed in one tournament in the build-up to the US Open, reaching the Cincinnati final where he lost to Novak Djokovic. Federer is bidding for a sixth US Open title, a first since 2008, and the 20-time grand slam champion is confident the conditions in New York will work in his favour.

“I like playing here. I think the court speed’s good for me. I’m happy in this country. I’m happy in New York,” he said.

“I think coming to New York, I think you get a better feel [compared to Cincinnati]. The balls are easier to control. The surface is a touch slower. So I think as an overall theme, maybe we will see better tennis here in New York.”

Third seed Del Potro knows better than any player at the top of the men’s game about fitness problems, having undergone four separate surgeries on his wrists to save his career.

Now fully fit, the 29-year-old Argentine has reached a career-high No 3 in the world rankings and is one of the favourites to win the US Open.

“Well, the most important thing is that all my injuries and problems are completely in the past. Now I’m feeling good,” said the 2009 US Open champion, who opens his tournament against American Donald Young. “Sometimes I have to deal with any pain on my wrist, which is normal after all my surgeries.”

While the top three seeds have carefully managed their schedules to be ready for the US Open, each will have designs on winning the tournament.

The same cannot be said of Andy Murray, the 2012 champion who is gradually making his way back to fitness after hip surgery.

A former world No 1 and three-time grand slam winner, Murray’s return to competitive tennis in July after 11 months on the sidelines has been slow and steady. The 31-year-old Scot has won four and lost four of his eight matches so far, and his US Open expectations reflect his current position.

“You know, it feels slightly different, this one because for the last 10 years or so I’ve been coming and trying to prepare to win the event, whereas I don’t feel that’s realistic for me this year,” said Murray, who is ranked No 378 in the world and will face Australia’s James Duckworth in the first round.

“It’s a slightly different mentality for me coming in than what I have had the last 10, 11 years of my life. That feels a bit odd.”