By Abhishek Mehrotra
It's not exactly a second wind, but the Swiss has certainly cranked it up a notch this year, with his Wimbledon triumph bringing an end to a Slamless run stretching all the way back to the 2010 Australian Open.
Federer heads to New York on the back of a win in Cincinnati, where he dispatched Novak Djokovic 6-0 7-6 in the final for his third Masters title of the year, and will begin his tournament against American Donald Young. Young, once touted as one of the most promising youngsters on the US circuit, is in a horrific rut at the moment, having lost 17 matches on the trot. Overwhelming favourite does not even begin to cover it for Federer.
In the latter stages, the 31-year-old is likely to be up against the usual suspects with the exception of Rafael Nadal whose withdrawal has taken some gloss off the year's final Grand Slam. Inspite their long-standing rivalry, Federer and Nadal have incredibly never met at Flushing Meadows, and now the wait will go on for yet another year.
Assuming he makes it to the semi-final, which he should unless one of the lower-ranked players pull off a Lukas Rosol (or Lukas Rosol pulls off a Lukas Rosol), Federer will meet Andy Murray - the man who he beat in the Wimbledon final, but then was thrashed by in the Olympic final. Murray leads the duo's head-to-head 9-8, but has never beaten the Swiss in a Grand Slam in three meetings.
The US Open represents the Brit's best chance of redressing the balance. He'll be on his favourite surface and having finally beaten Federer in a best-of-five encounter, at Wimbledon for the Olympic gold, there are signs that the 25-year-old is ready to go toe-to-toe with the most successful player of all time. Aside from a tough draw though, in which he could face big-hitting Milos Raonic and the dangerous Jo-Wilfried Tsonga en route to the last four, Murray has some fitness concerns to address.
His gold medal run at the Olympics meant the normally gruelling tennis season got even tougher, forcing the world number four to skip the Toronto Masters event with a knee injury. His return wasn't too promising either, a shock third-round loss in Cincinnati to Jeremy Chardy putting paid to hopes of a decent build-up to the US Open.
Djokovic, on the other hand, looked set for the perfect preparation, winning the Toronto Masters and reaching the final in Cinicinnati without dropping his serve before running into the red-hot Federer. Djokovic was never going to replicate his 2011 season, and this year has been punctuated with sparkling as well as indifferent performances. His Cincinnati loss to Federer, which included the first-ever "bagel" or 6-0 scorline in a match between the two, close on the heels of a Wimbledon semi-final reversal at the hands of the same man has severely dented the armour of invincibility he seemed to have donned last year.
However, if there is one place Djokovic can regain his aura, New York is it. The Serb and Federer have met five times at Flushing Meadows in the last five years, with Federer leading the head-to-head 3-2. That statistic is slightly misleading, because it doesn't provide any context to the two wins Djokovic has recorded over the 17-time Grand Slam champion. In both 2010 and 2011, the 25-year-old came back from match-points down to beat Federer. The very sight of Arthur Ashe Stadium should see the self-belief flooding back into him.
The draw has been kind as well, with Djokovic scheduled to meet David Ferrer in the semi-final after the latter was pushed up to number four in the seedings following Nadal's withdrawal.
And what about the others?
The Grand Slam dominance of the Federer, Djokovic and Nadal (they're 11/11 since Juan Martin del Potro's US Open win in 2009), has unsurprisingly overshadowed the rest of the men's field. But in addition to Murray, whose Olympic win could yet turn out to be a huge breakthrough, most of the remaining top 10 have it in them to make a surprise run all the way to the title.
The most dangerous of these are del Potro and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The Argentine came agonisingly close to beating Federer at the French Open and then again at the Olympics, and the scene of his biggest triumph to date should spur him on. The courts at Flushing Meadows allow del Potro to get maximum purchase out of his explosive forehand while not exposing his limited movement in the way grass does.
Tsonga is another player who has been knocking on the door for a long, long time. Just like del Potro, he was close to causing a big upset at the French Open when he had four match points in the semi-final against Djokovic. Just like del Potro, he failed to close the deal. If the 27-year-old Frenchman has to finally notch his maiden major, it has to be sooner rather than later. To do that, he'll probably have to go through Murray in the quarters, Federer in the semis and Djokovic in the final. It could happen, but one gets the feeling it won't.
The player who has benefitted the most from Nadal pulling out is John Isner. The American enjoyed a blistering start to the 2012 season, fell away spectacularly as clay court time around before reviving for the final, hard-court leg of the season. Isner is scheduled to meet Ferrer in the quarter-finals, a clash in which he would start as slight favourite thanks to the serve and forehand weaponry at his disposal. And beyond that? Djokovic and then Federer or Murray. No one said it was going to be easy.
Youngsters to look out for
Milos Raonic: Big-hitting Canadian who has run Federer close in the past couple of months. Most promising of the younger talent coming through.
Bernard Tomic: Crafty young Aussie who has had a mediocre season so far. Issues with court coverage and temperament.
David Goffin: Promising Belgian who took a set off his idol Federer in the fourth round of the French Open
Ryan Harrison: American with big groundstrokes and a magnificent mover on court. Has a tendency to implode when things are not going his way.
Kei Nishikori: Asia's brightest. Lacks the bombastic shots of his contemporaries, but makes up with unflagging effort and great understanding of the court angles.