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A year removed from registering one of the biggest results of his career in reaching the final at the 2014 US Open, Kei Nishikori is back in New York.

With growing confidence and a career-high Emirates ATP Ranking of World No. 4, the 25 year old is setting his sights on going one step further at the last Grand Slam of the year.

"My ranking is obviously different and I’m a Top 4 seed for the first time," said Nishikori. "There are some new things, but on the court it’s all the same. I have to play good tennis to beat those strong guys, especially the Top 10 guys.

"This is a new US Open and I know how tough it is to go to the final again, so I am trying to play one match at a time. I try to focus just on myself and what I have to do on the court. I try not to listen too much to outside things. I think I’m very focused and excited for first round.

"I’m staying in the same hotel, have same team again. I think it’s important to do the same thing like last year, so I try to prepare like last year and just play good tennis on the court."

Nishikori is making his seventh trip to the US Open, owning a 13-6 overall win-loss record. He admits he is doing a better job of tuning out the pressure as the face of Asian tennis, and is focusing on what he can control on the court.

"I try to listen to my team, but outside I try not to listen too much," Nishikori added. "There’s good things and bad things from outside of my team. Especially these past four, five years I try to believe in myself more, to be in the Top 10 and now I’m Top 10. Little by little I try to claim these big challenges and I’m very proud that I’m No. 1 in Asia right now. I hope I can keep going."

The fourth-seeded Japanese opens against Benoit Paire first on Louis Armstrong Stadium. Other seeds in his quarter include No. 7 David Ferrer, No. 9 Marin Cilic and No. 16 Gael Monfils. A potential semi-final clash against Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal looms large.

Every player attempts to peak for each major championship by working hard off the court and by gaining valuable match practice at ATP World Tour tournaments, but only a lucky few are able to take home silverware from the major championships: Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open.

Bjorn Borg leads the all-time Grand Slam match-wins list with a 141-16 record (.898) since 1973, including 11 titles, ahead of current players: second-placed Rafael Nadal, who has a 196-28 (.875) mark and 14 trophies. Roger Federer, the 17-time Grand Slam title-leader, is third overall with a 291-48 record (.858).

Borg told ATPWorldTour.com, "The goal for me every year was to win the Grand Slam tournaments. It helped if I arrived at each Grand Slam well-rested and alert no matter what surface it was. It was most important to hit peak form at those events.

"You could lose anyway, but if you did, you knew that you were in good shape and did your best. After the first two rounds I began to feel that I was in the tournament and I got more confidence. I played much better the longer the race went on." Borg's worst performance in 27 majors was a US Open second-round exit in 1974.

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Novak Djokovic, who is currently No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, is fourth for the best Grand Slam match winning percentage in the all-time list (200-34, .855).

Six-time major champion Boris Becker, who won his first big title at 1985 Wimbledon, aged 17, told ATPWorldTour.com, "The difference between the top players, those who win Grand Slams titles, and other players is not a question of technique or their actual game, but having a positive attitude.

"When you play a major final, you have to play to win with aggression. You must take your chances and not give it away. Just by getting to a final, you should be confident. Then, it is a case of going out to win."

Becker, who compiled a 163-40 match record (.803), added, "In any era of tennis, talent has only gotten a player so far. The simple fact is that no one is going to lose a Grand Slam for you. The winner is the guy who dominates the middle of the court."

Borg, who believes that he was at the peak of his form when he won Roland Garros in 1978 and 1980, insists, "Tennis is a mental sport, you need to be physically strong and know how to handle the important situations, through perfect practice. The difference between playing well in tight situations is the difference between the players at the top."

Rafael Nadal has played below his expectations in 2015, but the 14-time Grand Slam champion, No. 8 in the Emirates ATP Rankings heading into the US Open, is hopeful for another deep run at Flushing Meadows.

“I’m having the worst season in my past 11 years, but I think I can still be a dangerous player,” said Nadal, who is 42-14 with three titles in 2015. “The most important thing for me is to see myself playing at a high level again. I believe that I’m close to that.

“I’m feeling better today than I was a couple of months ago,” said the two-time US Open champion. “I’ve worked a lot these last couple of months. I know the process; it’s a challenge for me to find the level of play that I’ve been at a lot of times in my career.”

Standing in his way in the first round of the US Open is young gun Borna Coric. The 18 year old defeated Nadal in their lone meeting last fall in Basel, before the Spaniard underwent a season-ending appendectomy.

“It was a tough week for me and I had the surgery the week after,” said Nadal. “I don’t remember it very well, but I think I played very bad. If he played well then he deserved to win, but hopefully Monday will be a different story.

“[Coric] is a tough player,” added Nadal. “He’s a young player with a lot of energy, a complete player with a great serve and a very good backhand. He’s a big competitor. He’s one of the players that is the future of our sport, so it’s a tough one, but I’m playing well. I feel like I’m ready.”

As an 18 year old taking part in his second US Open in 2004, Nadal was humbled 6-0, 6-3, 6-4 by former No. 1 Andy Roddick. Rather than be discouraged by the setback, Nadal drew from the experience within his team to rise to new heights, something that Coric, coached by 2002 Australian Open champion Thomas Johansson, is likely to do.

“I always had the people around me,” reflected Nadal on his mindset as a teenager. “I listened to people who were trying to help me. I never was an arrogant guy. I never believed that I knew more than the people who were around me. They were older and they had more experience and they knew more about how things worked. I believed that one of the most important things I did in my career was listen to the people around me.”

The 29 year old has made the second week in New York seven times in 10 appearances and has never lost in the first round.

Pete Sampras believes that if the stars align Roger Federer can win an 18th Grand Slam championship at the US Open, where he is the second seed. The 34-year-old Swiss was runner-up at Wimbledon in July (l. to Djokovic) and has lifted the trophy at Flushing Meadows five times. 

"Things need to fall into place, but he can do it," Sampras said of Federer's chances. Watch to learn Sampras' thoughts on the leading contenders at the US Open, which begins Monday.

ATP World Tour Uncovered profiles the rise of Denis Kudla, one of the United States' finest young talents, who reached the fourth round at Wimbledon.
Watch highlights as Kevin Anderson beats Pierre-Hugues Herbert to win the Winston-Salem crown.
Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga look ahead to the US Open.
Last year's finalists, Kei Nishikori and Marin Cilic, talk about their form going into the 2015 US Open.

“I play because I want to be No. 1.”

Jared Donaldson leans forward intently. His eyes widen with eager anticipation as his focus narrows. Suddenly entranced in his own thoughts, an in-depth interview is condensed into a single moment.

“My goal isn’t to be a Top 200 teenager. My goal is to be a Top 10 player, a Top 4 player, the top player.”

Coach Taylor Dent is standing nearby, but there’s no glance of affirmation from Jared. He pauses. His voice hardens, reaching a crescendo of enthusiasm.

“I didn’t start playing tennis because the American public wanted another Grand Slam champion. I started playing because I really loved the sport.

“There are a lot of good, young players, but I don’t really look at them as my competition. For me, it’s Djokovic, Federer, Nadal and Murray. That’s the level you have to get to. I want to be in the position to compete for big titles and those are the guys doing it now.”

“Jared and I and everybody in Jared’s team have big aspirations," said Dent. "We’re not arrogant in saying we’re going to reach those aspirations, but why not have them? We want to try and do the things that the best guys are doing. That is, observing and learning how to play at the highest level possible. That’s what we’re trying to absorb and emulate for Jared right now.” 

For Donaldson, the path to ATP World Tour stardom is paved with clay. But not all clay is created equal.

Born and raised in the heart of the northeast United States, in Providence, Rhode Island, where snow plows are more common than tennis facilities – and hard courts are particularly prevalent – Donaldson soon realised that a change of scenery was necessary.

Clay builds character, but he is quick to point out that while the vast majority of junior development programs in the United States implement training regimens on green clay, the surface leaves much to be desired. With his team’s guidance, Donaldson looked abroad to foster a stronger foundation on the red dirt and his quest would lead him 5,000 miles south to Argentina.

He admits it was a big change, but an imperative one.

“We were set up with an Argentine-American coach down there, Nestor Bernabe, who knew a lot of academies down there and helped us find the right fit for us,” Donaldson told ATPWorldTour.com. “That was Pablo Bianchi. He said I should come down and train with him. We said we’ll try it out for five months, play some tournaments and see how it goes. It was a good situation for two and a half years. In the end it got a little tough, but for my development at the time it was really good."

Donaldson strongly believes that the red dirt made a big difference in his growth and maturation, both tactically and mentally. From point construction to movement and problem solving in tricky situations, he says he learned a lot about his game and himself from his time abroad.

“I’m pretty lanky and tall and needed to work on movement, because playing indoors (in Rhode Island) there’s not as much movement involved as playing on red clay. Also, putting more spin on my shots, hitting a good rally ball and using my legs. On hard courts it’s tougher to do. On clay you need to use more body and more legs.

“Clay isn’t unfamiliar to me now. I learned how to slide and build confidence in myself and there isn’t a question mark of whether I can do different things. It is the stuff I’ve already been through.”

Donaldson has soared up the Emirates ATP Rankings to a career-high World No. 146, after sitting outside the Top 300 exactly one year ago. He is one of three 18 year olds in the Top 150, along with Borna Coric and Alexander Zverev.

While Coric and Zverev have surged into the spotlight in the past year, enjoying immediate ATP World Tour success, Donaldson continues to plot his ascent with steadier progress. The right-hander, who currently lives in Irvine, California, is not concerned. A career is a journey, not a sprint.

“My immediate goal is to keep improving my game and getting better with the things I’m doing on the court. If I do that, my ranking can’t go anywhere but up. If I don’t, it will remain stagnant or go down. The game only gets better over time. Players work harder and figure things out. If you don’t keep improving, then you’re in trouble.”

“Jared is an exceptionally hard worker,” said Dent. “I think that’s his biggest strength – his desire to get better. I do think that is tough for some people to grasp but for Jared it comes easy. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to get better. He’s willing to spend six to seven hours on court. He’s willing to do things he doesn’t like to do. My job is an easy job. I just have to convince him we need to invest his time in certain things X, Y and Z, and if I do my job correctly then he’s on the same page with me and we’re rolling along. It’s easy times."

Donaldson owns match wins in four different ATP World Tour events this year, including Memphis, Newport, Atlanta and his first at the Masters 1000 level, in Cincinnati. While the victories are nice, he reiterates that they are simply stepping stones to bigger and greater things.

“It’s just another match and chance to improve and continue working on the things I was doing in practice. I think one of the times I was at Taylor’s family academy, Phil told my dad that there’s always going to be a first. A first qualifying for a Challenger, first Challenger win, then your first title, first ATP 250 level win, 500, Masters 1000, first Grand Slam win. There’s always a first and you just have to be focused and don’t blow things out of proportion and get too caught up in the moment.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge of Taylor Dent’s professional career has come after he struck his final ball. The former World No. 21 and four-time ATP World Tour singles titlist reached the semi-finals of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. He understands the importance of imparting lessons learned from his 12-year playing career, but also knows that all careers are created differently. While guiding a burgeoning talent in American tennis has its pressures, the California native stresses the importance of keeping it simple.

“I’m no hero. I’m not a martyr. I like doing things the most efficient and effective way possible. I got to see that first hand when Federer would do certain things to me on the court. Nadal, Djokovic, Murray too. I experienced how those guys operate and what makes them so effective. It’s a pretty easy transition for me because I experienced it first-hand.

“The lesson I’ve taken from my playing career, is what’s effective in modern tennis. In theory, a lot of things are effective and a lot of things work out well. In practice, they don’t. I had a first-hand experience of what those players did well and the things that I thought would work that didn’t work. It’s hard knocks in seeing what works and what doesn’t work from experience.”

The formula Dent has put into practice has paid dividends thus far, with Donaldson’s zeal to learn and improve at the heart of their relationship.

“He’s made me a better player in every single aspect,” Donaldson added. “The serve is the biggest, because it was probably the farthest behind in my game. Forehand, backhand and mentally is another big one. He has me thinking more as a professional out there rather than as a junior.”

“Jared’s very inquisitive and won’t say ‘yes sir’,” Dent said, proudly. “Jared needs to be on board and needs to understand why I say and ask him to do things. That helps me to be even better because I have to explain it. I prefer it that way. I wouldn’t want him to do something that he didn’t believe in. I don’t want him to have one foot in, one foot out. That’s no way to commit to something. Jared likes to understand, he likes to talk about things. He brings opinions to the table. It helps me think out loud at times. We’ll talk it through and say this is why it might not be the case or why it is.

“Like any young man, Jared is a little more negative on himself at times, but he has improved so much this year in that area. Will that go away with maturity and age? Yes. With everything else, Jared is on the right track. Is there a long way to go, is it a long journey? 100 per cent. But I like the path we’re on.”

Donaldson opens his 2015 US Open campaign against Lukas Rosol. The spotlight will shine even brighter should he tangle with Roger Federer in a potential third-round clash.

As Novak Djokovic begins his quest Monday for a third major title of 2015, the Serb says that recent losses to Andy Murray and Roger Federer in Montreal and Cincinnati have not dented his confidence heading into the US Open.

“Of course, I did want to win both in Canada and Cincinnati, but it didn’t happen,” the World No. 1 and top seed said Saturday at Flushing Meadows. “But they deserved to win because they were better players on the court. It only changes in terms of me understanding what I did wrong, what has happened in those matches, analysing it, talking with my team, with my coach especially. Trying to develop the right approach to prepare myself and to get better.”

Djokovic has reached the final in five of the past six majors, winning titles in Wimbledon (2014, ’15), and the Australian Open (’15) during that span. For the second time in his career (2011) he is looking to win three Grand Slam titles in a single season.

But he’ll need to overcome a record at Flushing Meadows that has not reflected his standing as the game’s best hard-court player of recent years. Unlike the Australian Open, where he has won five titles, Djokovic has won the US Open only once (2011) from five finals appearances. Djokovic has also been an outstanding indoor player in recent years and believes that the calmer conditions inside Arthur Ashe stadium, now sporting a partially built roof, will help his game.

“I’ve practised several times in the center court. The construction is really impressive and that has protected the court from the wind, so we have less of the swirling conditions on the court, which does help. In the past, I’ve played many matches where it was difficult to control the ball on the court because of the swirling conditions. Now it protects it.”

Djokovic fell in the US Open semi-finals last year to Kei Nishikori after winning just two of four matches in Toronto and Cincinanti. This year he is battle-hardened after consecutive ATP Masters 1000 singles finals and additional play on the doubles court.

“I played a lot of matches coming into New York. I think 14 in total, doubles and singles in two weeks, which is quite a lot… I feel like I’m well prepared for New York. So that competitive mode is going to help me ease my way into the tournament better. Confidence is still there… This is where of course I was setting up my form to be at its peak. Hopefully that can happen.”

Following his third Wimbledon title, comparisons were drawn with his banner 2011 year. The losses to Murray and Federer during the Emirates US Open Series have dampered that talk somewhat, but the Serb is still very happy with his season, which has returned 56 wins and just five losses.

“I’m a different person, a different player today than I was in 2011, so it’s kind of hard to compare tennis-wise. I think physically I’m stronger and I’m able to endure longer than I did in 2011 and maybe there are some slight differences in the game, but generally as you grow older you’re kind of maturing and you’re trying to develop your game and get your game to the highest possible level. I think this season, results-wise (is) pretty close to 2011. What I achieved in 2011 is hard to repeat, so this season is definitely just behind that one.”

Djokovic will play his opening match of the 2015 US Open Monday during the day session against Brazil’s Joao Souza.

Dominic Inglot and Robert Lindstedt won 6-2, 6-4 against Eric Butorac and Scott Lipsky to secure their first team title in Winston-Salem on Saturday.

“It was the best match we’ve played all tournament and the best match we’ve played in our partnership,” said Lindstedt. “It just clicked. Most of the things we’ve talked about fell into place.”

Inglot and Lindstedt were searching for form coming into the week, as the pair had suffered first-round defeats in Hamburg and Kitzbuhel since joining forces. In Winston-Salem, the fourth-seeded partnership found its rhythm, winning four matches while dropping just one set. Inglot improves to 4-7 in career ATP World Tour finals, while Lindstedt is now 19-21.

“The conditions here really suited us,” said Inglot. “Rob [Lindstedt] suggested that we go play Atlanta on hard court, but I convinced him to stay on clay, which proved to be not such a good decision. So this proves that if I listen to Rob, good things happen. Our team really helped us prepare last week, and it’s helped us a lot. Now is the right time to be peaking. It great to play in America, a country where people appreciate doubles so much.”

Third seeds Butorac and Lipsky were playing together for only the third time since 2010. The pair had captured the Estoril title in 2009 and were looking to double their ATP World Tour title haul as a team. The Americans upset top seeds Lukasz Kubot and Daniel Nestor to reach the final.

The eventual winners saved all four break points faced in the 58-minute match and took the win on their first match point. The British-Swedish duo will share 250 Emirates ATP Rankings points and $34,050, while their opponents will split 150 points and $17,900.

When Roger Federer saved five match points to edge Leonardo Mayer at the 2014 Shanghai Rolex Masters, the Swiss remarked that he was "crazy lucky" to survive.

Federer hopes his US Open first-round encounter against the Argentine goes much smoother and is well aware of the threat Mayer poses.

"I didn’t know he was unseeded," Federer said. "Total shock for me to see that I was going to play him, because he’s been seeded for some time now at majors. All of a sudden he’s not seeded here, so that’s why I think he’s a really tough draw.

"The Shanghai match was one of the luckiest matches I’ve ever won in my career to be quite honest. In Shanghai, and even now, the other day when I practised with him, I know the power he has, on both sides, plus the serve, as well. It makes him tough to control from the baseline. I think I always have to try to make it an athletic match and there’s lots of movement, shortening the points, on my terms. I think he’s a challenge, to be honest. I hope I can play with my confidence and use my experience against a player like this."

Seeded second, Federer enters an unprecendented 64th consecutive Grand Slam tournament with high expectations. The Swiss claimed a record seventh title at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 in Cincinnati, securing his return to World No. 2 in the Emirates ATP Rankings. The five-time champion in New York has not tasted victory since 2008 and is taking it one match at a time.

"Clearly my focus needs to be not trying to win the tournament right away. That’d be thinking too far ahead. I haven’t been in a final in this tournament as of late. I came close, but close is not good enough. I’ve tried to build up as we move forward.

"I think there’s always some nerves going into a first round. You don’t know how the conditions are going to be, how your opponent is going to be. You always hope to get out of the blocks early and it's ok and if you don’t, there’s no need to panic. It’s a best of five set match, so you stay with him, you try to fight back, and if you start rolling you try to maintain that. That’s why it’s always a bit of a relief to win your first or second match. You’re really into the tournament, you’ve seen matches, you’ve felt the matches, you’ve played in some. That gives you a lot of information."

Federer would face Marcos Baghdatis or Steve Darcis in the second round, with big serving John Isner and Ivo Karlovic potential Round of 16 opponents. Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Tomas Berdych also loom in his half of the draw.

The 2015 US Open commences on Monday.