It may not have the name cachet of Wimbledon or the grueling clay surface of Roland Garros, but the U.S. Open has an even greater intangible: New York itself.
"(It's) just a great feeling coming back to New York," says Roger Federer, the former World No. 1 who won five consecutive U.S. Open singles titles from 2004 to 2008. "Honestly, I liked it from day one. It was just one of those tournaments I right away fell in love with -- just the buzz and the energy over there. Sure, it was a bit overwhelming at first. I kind of always liked to play there.
"(It's) difficult with the wind, humidity, the city behind it, the whole deal," he continues. "Having to deal with that was quite interesting. Every time the U.S. Open rolls around, I'm very, very excited."
The season's final Grand Slam event gets going Monday, Aug. 29, from USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y. (with coverage airing over the next two weeks on ESPN2 and CBS), and the sport's best -- including World No. 1's Novak Djokovic and Caroline Wozniacki, plus Rafael Nadal, Maria Sharapova and Federer -- will take to the hard-court surface in search of the singles titles won last year by Nadal and Kim Clijsters.
Sharapova, who won the title here in 2006, has experienced a career renaissance after being hampered by inconsistent play and shoulder problems that ultimately required surgery. After falling as low as No. 126 in May 2009 (and finishing 2010 at No. 18), the 24-year-old Russian native had a successful clay-court season this spring, culminating in a semifinal loss to Li Na in the French Open. She then went on to Wimbledon and didn't lose a set in making it to the final, where she was upended by Petra Kvitova in straight sets.
She comes into this tournament ranked fifth, riding a wave of good feeling from her performance in London.
"To be honest, it's still nice to come home with a nice plate, so I was glad I didn't come home after Wimbledon empty-handed," she says. "To have that moment where you're walking out in the final stage of Wimbledon, even though you didn't leave with the big trophy, you know, gives me a great and tremendous amount of confidence that I've been doing something right in the last few months and I've been getting better.
"I think I always like to let the game talk," she says, "instead of saying, 'OK, I'm feeling better.' Everything is going well. I'm pretty realistic about my results. I always feel like the more matches you win, the ranking is always going to take care of itself."
Like Sharapova, Federer has faced questions about his abilities since falling from the top ranking he held from 2004 to 2008. Currently ranked third behind Djokovic and Nadal, he has experienced stretches of inconsistent play in recent years and hasn't won a major since the 2010 Australian Open. And earlier this month he turned 30, an age considered ancient in tennis.
Still, the 16-time Grand Slam champ is confident in his abilities and intends to prove it in Flushing.
"Do I approach tournaments differently?" he says. "Well, maybe a little obviously. I think when you win 90-95 percent of your matches, you go into a tournament slightly more confident. Other than that, there's not a huge change because I know my abilities. I don't want to say I'm overconfident, but I also know what I can do and I also know ... my limits. Hopefully that allows me to play the best tennis I can each day."