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Returning to the site of his best Grand Slam effort to date, world No. 4 Kei Nishikori said Friday he was going into the U.S. Open having achieved the best results of his life.

A year ago, Nishikori nearly withdrew from the U.S. Open following minor surgery to remove a cyst on his foot. Instead, he carried on and survived a series of marathon matches before beating world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the semifinals.

“At this time last year, my anxiety level was at 100 percent,” Nishikori told a news conference before the U.S. Open kicks off on Monday.

“This summer has seen me put forward the best results of my life and I myself have high expectations. If I can avoid injury, I have a chance (to win).”

Injuries have slowed, but not stopped him this summer. Nishikori successfully defended his title in Barcelona and reached the French Open quarterfinals. He retired in the semifinals in his first grass-court event, the Gerry Weber Open in Germany, where a calf injury weakened him ahead of Wimbledon.

Back on hard courts in North America, Nishikori stormed to the Citi Open title and blew away former world No. 1 Rafael Nadal in Montreal before being slowed by a hip injury that saw him pull out of the Cincinnati Masters.

“Part of me thinks that it was a good thing I lost (last year’s U.S. Open final),” Nishikori said. “It fueled my hunger, and I did well at the end of the season. My bitterness was a springboard for me this year.

“I’ve been able to play with confidence in my serve and strokes. Particularly in Montreal, I played ideal tennis in my wins against (Belgian David) Goffin and Nadal.

“But this is a new U.S. Open. Because a Grand Slam is a long fight, I want to play relaxed and take each match as it comes.”

Serena praised

REUTERS

Serena Williams is on the brink of a crowning achievement in tennis, but as far as several top analysts are concerned, the 33-year-old American has already established herself as the greatest women’s player ever.

“To me, she’s the greatest female player that every played,” seven-time Grand Slam winner John McEnroe said of Williams, who is the current holder of each of the major titles following 2015 wins at the Australian, French and Wimbledon championships and her title last year in the U.S. Open.

Williams would become only the fourth woman to sweep all four Grand Slams in a single season should she win a fourth consecutive title at Flushing Meadows.

Former doubles specialist Pam Shriver said Williams’ performance this year moved her to rank the American ahead of 18-time Grand Slam champion Martina Navratilova.

“This year I’ve put her as my all-time great,” Shriver told Reuters. “She’s still winning so many majors, so many more than anyone else in their 30s. She’s won them in the ’90s, 2000s and now — three different decades.”

Williams would join Maureen Connolly (1953), Margaret Court (1970) and Steffi Graf (1988) as the only women to register a calendar Grand Slam. A U.S. Open win would also tie her with Graf on the Grand Slam title list with 22, two behind all-time leader Court.

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