Roger Federer was fielding questions from the media on Saturday at the US Open when a young boy in the press corps piped up and asked him a question.
"You have been the most consistent player of all time," the boy asked intrepidly. "Can you please continue to play for eight, nine years so that I can play you when I go pro?"
"Yeah, sure," Federer replied with a smile. "If you make it on tour, I'll make sure maybe I come back for you, okay."
At 36, Federer isn't likely to play for another eight or nine years but he is playing some of the best tennis of his career at this advanced tennis age — maybe the best tennis.
The Swiss maestro enters his first-round match on Tuesday night against American Frances Tiafoe having won two Grand Slams this year — the Australian Open and Wimbledon — after not having captured a major title in the previous 17 Slams.
He is many observers' favorite to win his sixth US Open, his first since 2008 and the 20th major title of his career.
"You look back at those first couple of years when I got on the run of the five here," Federer said of winning five in a row from 2004-08. "I fell in love with New York, I always loved coming back here."
Federer pulled out of his last tournament in Cincinnati two weeks ago with a bad back but says he's fine now.
"I have been playing sets the last few days, and I'm really happy how I'm feeling," he said.
The big question entering the tournament was whether Federer, the No. 3 player in the world, and his longtime rival Rafael Nadal, ranked No. 1, would potentially meet in a historic final in Arthur Ashe Stadium. The two legends have played multiple times at every other Grand Slam event, but never here in New York.
But when the draw came out last Friday, they were placed in the same half of the draw, meaning they could meet in the semifinals on Sept. 8, not the final Sept. 10.
That bummer of a situation was amplified on Saturday when No. 2 Andy Murray withdrew from the tournament with a hip injury. Had Murray pulled out before the draw, Federer would have been bumped up to the No. 2 seed, setting up a potential final with Nadal. But because Murray waited until Saturday, Federer and Nadal remain in the same half. Assuming they both win Tuesday, they would both play again on Thursday.
"Feel sorry for Andy Murray but he just ruined the US open draw," former tennis player Todd Woodbridge Tweeted. "Would have been better for [Federer, Nadal] to be in opposite halves."
Displaying a much-improved one-handed backhand that he attacks early, Federer has beaten Nadal three times in 2017, including in five sets in the Australian final and two subsequent beatdowns in Indian Wells and Miami.
"At last, Federer is comfortable playing Nadal," seven-time major winner Mats Wilander told Sports Illustrated.
It's no wonder Nadal, who still leads Federer 23-14 all-time, is in no hurry to face him in the semis.
“If I am in semifinals, no,” said Nadal, who won here in 2010 and ’13. “I prefer to play against another one. It's obvious, no? Sounds very good, but the real thing, I prefer to play against another player, an easier one if it’s possible. But anyway, meeting him here in semifinals with Roger, if that happens that will be something great and amazing."
For his part, Federer said he'd love the chance to meet Nadal in New York.
“Hopefully it will be a night session," he said. "Hopefully that would be a great atmosphere and one again where we play great like at the Australian Open. I don’t think we are both thinking that far ahead. I’m sure it will be a nice prospect.”
And a treat for tennis fans in New York— and around the world.
Follow Adam Zagoria on Twitter @AdamZagoria for updates throughout the U.S. Open.
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