Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal go into the year’s final Grand Slam - the US Open at Flushing Meadows - as favourites for the title.
Federer, although ranked third on the official ATP rankings, is the bookies’ No 1 at odds of 23/20, followed by Nadal at 5/2.
It’s no surprise given the respective seasons these two tennis giants have had.
Their Australian Open final in January was one for the ages - won by Federer in dramatic fashion after he rallied from a break down in the final set.
The duo’s run to the final Down Under stunned the tennis world after both had cut short their 2016 seasons due to injury.
In Melbourne, Nadal was ranked ninth and Federer a lowly 17th, having not played since the 2016 Wimbledon tournament in June.
Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, the two dominating figures of the 2016 season, had lost early in Australia which opened the door.
Confidence is vital in all spheres of life and it showed in subsequent months as Federer and Nadal reclaimed dominance of a sport they had once owned.
Federer followed his Australian Open crown with the “Sunshine Double” - winning back-to-back Masters 1000 events in Cincinnati and Miami.
En route to those titles he comfortably defeated Nadal twice to extend his recent win-streak over the Spaniard to four.
Federer, who is the second oldest men’s Grand Slam winner, opted to skip the clay season, where Nadal cashed in, winning three titles - Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid - before bagging “La Decima” by winning the French Open for a 10th time.
Federer got back to winning ways on the grass in Halle before claiming record eighth Wimbledon crown in July.
In the meantime, Murray and Djokovic struggled to impose themselves as they too succumbed to the injury curse.
Mentally Djokovic also did not appear himself and it came as no surprise when he cut short his season after a Wimbledon quarter-final exit at the hands of Czech Tomas Berdych.
Murray fell at the same stage to American Sam Querrey and has also not played since due to a troublesome hip, but is expected to feature at the US Open starting on Monday.
Murray has lost his No 1 ranking to Nadal and the Scot is also just five points clear of Federer, and given his form in 2017, will be a rank outsider to win the tournament.
The year’s final major received further setbacks with several frontline players calling time on their season due to injury.
Defending champion and current world No 4 Stan Wawrinka, Japan’s former finalist Kei Nishikori and Canada’s No 11-ranked Milos Raonic have all packed it in for the 2017 season.
It will be worrisome for organisers but could be an opportunity for lesser players to stake a claim, including the upcoming generation dubbed “Next Gen” by the ATP Tour.
These 21-and-under players now have their own end-of-season finale - similar to the ATP World Tour Finals - which will be contested in Milan in November.
Germany’s Alexander Zverev leads this pack by some distance and is perhaps the only one ready to challenge the “Fab Four” of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray.
Zverev has won two Masters 1000 tournaments this year - beating Djokovic in Rome before upending Federer in Montreal earlier this month.
However, Grand Slams are contested over best-of-five sets and Zverev’s best showing at a major is reaching the fourth round at this year's Wimbledon.
There’s no doubt that Zverev is a potential future major winner, but 2017 is perhaps a tad too soon.
Austria’s Dominic Thiem is also a regular member of the top 10, although - by his own admittance - more adept on clay courts.
Other potential candidates are former champions Marin Cilic (2014) and Juan Martin del Potro (2009), as well as talented Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, who last week won his first Masters 1000 title when he downed the equally gifted, yet highly temperamental Aussie, Nick Kyrgios.
But, for now, the focus will remain on Federer and Nadal, who remarkably have never squared off in New York.
Federer is ranked No 3 so Friday’s draw will determine whether he and Nadal are scheduled to meet in the semi-finals or final.
Nadal owns a 23-14 head-to-head win record against Federer, but the Swiss will be confident having won their last four encounters - all on hard courts.
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Herman Mostert works at Sport24, is a struggling golfer and enjoys tennis...
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