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Roger Federer will be the man to beat in 2018 provided he can stay fit, according to former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash.
Rafael Nadal, 31, extended his lead at the top of the rankings with his US Open victory over Kevin Anderson.
Federer, 36, was beaten in the quarter-finals, but Cash believes the Swiss can dominate the major titles if fully fit.
“Take away the French Open and Federer is the best all-round player in the world,” Cash told BBC Radio 5 live.
“There’s no doubts about that. He’s my favourite for everything apart from the French.
“As long as he’s fit, he’s favourite for the Australian, Wimbledon and the US Open.”
Nadal’s victory in New York brought him a 16th Grand Slam title, three behind Federer’s all-time record of 19.
The pair shared the four major titles between them in 2017, with Federer winning the Australian Open and Wimbledon, and Nadal the French Open and US Open.
“Will he catch Federer’s record? I don’t know if he even cares about that,” added Cash, currently coaching US Open semi-finalist Coco Vandeweghe.
“We get obsessed by the numbers thing; it’s a whole hype thing. He’s just happy to be out here and competing and if he gets near Federer…”
Battles with injuries
This time last year, Stan Wawrinka was celebrating his US Open triumph while Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic were about to embark on a battle for number one which went down to the final match of the season in London.
Both Federer and Nadal were absent as they recuperated from injuries.
Twelve months on and Andy Murray is likely to miss the rest of the season with a hip injury, in the hope that sufficient rest will allow him to play at 100% next year.
Djokovic and Wawrinka have taken the rest of the year off to recover from elbow and knee problems respectively, while Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori are also absent through injuries.
Nadal has struggled with injuries throughout his career, and only last year was forced to withdraw from both the French Open and Wimbledon with the wrist issue which would eventually end his season early.
“I thought in the back of my mind, Rafa should retire,” said Cash.
“Two or three years of playing very average tennis, I thought, ‘You know what, I don’t want to see Rafa go down like this.’
“I saw him in the first week of the year in Abu Dhabi and I went, ‘Oh my goodness, this guy is hitting the ball 20-25% harder than recent years.’ It was frightening; I thought ‘what has happened here?’
“That’s when I thought he was back.”
Rest and recuperation the key?
With three multiple Grand Slam champions working their way back to fitness, Germany’s Alexander Zverev has emerged as the leading challenger from the new generation coming through.
The 20-year-old is up to fourth in the world and has enjoyed a stellar year, but has yet to get past the second round of a Grand Slam.
Russian Andrey Rublev, 19, is the only player in the top 10 of the ATP’s next generation ‘Race to Milan’ to have reached a Grand Slam quarter-final, and he was heavily beaten by Nadal in New York.
The astonishing success in 2017 of Federer, who took six months off after Wimbledon last year, and to a lesser extent Nadal, who ended his season in October, might have inspired similar decisions among their rivals.
Murray, Djokovic and Wawrinka all plan to be back for the new season and challenging at the Australian Open in January.
“I think that’s why a bunch of the other top players are taking this extended break,” former world number one John McEnroe told ESPN. “But there aren’t a whole lot of Roger Federers around, so don’t bank on that happening.
“That’s the plan and we’ll see if any of those guys can execute the plan as well as Federer.”
The challenges ahead
Federer had not lost a Grand Slam match this year coming into New York, having won in Australia and at Wimbledon and skipped Paris, but a back problem picked up in Montreal appeared to have a lasting effect.
He could not hide his disappointment after the quarter-final defeat by Juan Martin del Potro on Wednesday, but quickly switched focus to the next tournament.
“It’s terrible to think of what lies ahead, packing bags, going home,” said the Swiss.
“I hope I’m going to arrive really early in Shanghai to really get ready and make it a priority for me to win that tournament. I have big priorities for the rest of the year.”
Nadal, too, was looking ahead at the challenges to come within hours of lifting the trophy at Flushing Meadows.
“Well done for Roger that he is having an amazing season, and well done for me because I’m having a great season too,” said Nadal.
“Let’s see what happens until the end of season and that’s it. Tennis is not all about the Grand Slams, so there are tournaments to come and I’m excited about this last part of the season.”
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