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Don't get your hopes up on a Federer-Nadal US Open final

The Grand Slam season is winding down. The manifold narratives of a few months ago are dwindling. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, those hale warriors and rivals, may soon be eclipsed by younger, healthier, hungrier stars. Time is running out for the one piece of the gorgeous mosaic these two icons have created to fall into place.

Nadal and Federer have never faced each other in a US Open final. It's an anomaly, given that the two both have won the American major multiple times and have gone at it tooth-and-claw in nine Grand Slam finals.

At some point in their careers, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have met in every Grand Slam final -- except the US Open. Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Is this the year the final piece drops?

Nadal is seeded No. 1 for the third time in his career. He's won the title twice; Federer, the No. 3 seed, has taken first five times. On Friday, the draw will determine whether Federer will land in the same half of the draw as Nadal, or face a potential final against, well, who cares? But temper those hopes.

"It's unlikely [that they'll meet in the final], even though they are going to be the two favorites because it's never happened," ESPN analyst John McEnroe said in a conference call Wednesday. "The odds, even with Roger to win three majors out of four, would be astounding."

The biggest impediment to the dream final may be the chronic struggles Nadal has had in the post-Wimbledon, hard-court season. It traces back to the early portion of his career, when he had yet to master the nuances of this surface. But he's also been plagued by bad luck, including opportunities lost because of injuries.

In 2009, Nadal missed defending his Wimbledon title with tendinitis in his knees. When he returned to compete in Flushing Meadows, he strained an abdominal muscle. It contributed to his loss against Juan Martin del Potro, who then went on to craft a sensational upset of Federer in the final.

Yet Nadal pulled off one of his most satisfying triumphs on Arthur Ashe Stadium when he unexpectedly outlasted Novak Djokovic in the final of 2013. After that feat, Nadal candidly admitted, "Sometimes even I don't know how I can beat that guy."

Everyone else seemed to know. Nadal's serve was at another level throughout that tournament; that gave him that extra smidgen of aggression and power that enabled him to overcome Djokovic's storied defense. That also happened to be Nadal's fourth consecutive US Open final (although he missed the tournament in 2012 with injury). But he hasn't been past the fourth round since.

Federer has had more consistent success on the plains of Ashe. Since he first won in 2004, Federer has stumbled out before the quarterfinals just once, and the only tournament he missed was last year. It's an exceptional record, but it bears an interesting asterisk. Federer hasn't won the tournament since he collected his fifth consecutive title in New York, in 2008, and that counts for something.

Also, at 36, Federer is five years older than his 31-year-old lifelong rival.

"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," Chris Evert said, in the same conference call. "[But] I think that it would be phenomenal if he did win."

It seems almost fitting that after being near-perfect for the first half of the year, both Nadal and Federer have stumbled, if only so slightly. It appeared Nadal finally broke the Wimbledon hex he's been living since 2011, but in the fourth round this year, he was chewed up by the big grass-court game of inspired journeyman Gilles Muller.

Nadal then suffered a startling round-of-16 upset at the hands of an 18-year-old Canadian Denis Shapovalov in Montreal, and Rafa was crushed in the quarterfinals of the Cincinnati Masters by resurgent Nick Kyrgios. It was the first time this year Nadal lost in back-to-back tournaments since the March North American Masters swing, Indian Wells and Miami.

Of note: Those two losses were inflicted by Federer.

However, Federer tweaked his back in Montreal and pulled out of Cincinnati to rest. It isn't exactly a wash, but Federer has had minor back problems before, and it's a long, hot, grueling two weeks in New York.

"Rafa has not done as well on the hard courts," McEnroe said, "[But] that [Federer-Nadal final] would be like the ultimate to me. That would be the most fantastic year-ending situation."

It's advantage Federer all right, but if Nadal can rekindle that 2013 spirit -- and serve -- we might see that gorgeous mosaic completed.

Author: Peter Bodo, ESPN
Source: http://www.espn.com/tennis/story/_/id/20441758/tennis-get-your-hopes-roger-federer-rafael-nadal-us-open-final

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