By Frank Pingue
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic have enjoyed a years-long stranglehold on Grand Slam titles and that dominance is unlikely to end at the U.S. Open where a cast of hopefuls will try to end their reign.
The 'Big Three' have combined to win each of the last 11 Grand Slams, with Serb Djokovic having triumphed in four of the last five blue riband events and a popular pick to successfully defend his New York title despite being dealt a tough draw.
ESPN tennis analyst and former world number one John McEnroe fully expects one member of the threesome to triumph in New York and suggested that the task of toppling them in a best-of-five sets is currently too tall an order.
"You have to beat potentially at least two of them, in some cases three of them. That's seemingly almost impossible to do," McEnroe said on a conference call.
"Perhaps with a little bit of luck something happens where a draw opens up. They're human. At some stage they're going to start losing more."
Top seed Djokovic will begin his title defense against Roberto Carballes Baena, and before a projected semi-final clash with five-times winner Federer could meet former champion Stan Wawrinka or 2017 finalist Kevin Anderson in the fourth round.
One player who is widely considered a possible threat is Russian fifth seed Daniil Medvedev, who has proven to be the most in-form player in the lead-up to the U.S. Open and is Djokovic's projected quarter-final opponent.
Medvedev has never made it past the third round in New York but is more confident than ever after reaching the final in tune-up events in Washington and Montreal before securing the biggest title of his career in Cincinnati.
"The three weeks really pushed my confidence a lot," said Medvedev, who has beaten Djokovic twice this season. "Now I know that when I play my best tennis I can beat basically everybody, and that's what I need to keep doing here."
Federer, owner of a record 20 Grand Slam titles, considers himself in fine form despite a forgettable U.S. Open tune-up that consisted of a swift third-round upset in Cincinnati.
The 38-year-old Swiss third seed has played just two matches since last month's Wimbledon final, where he failed to convert two championship points on his own serve in the fifth set against Djokovic, but is raring to go.
"This is probably the best I've felt in years coming into the U.S. Open again, which is encouraging," said Federer.
"It's going to be a tough tournament to win, no doubt about it. I feel like I'm part of that group who can do it."
Three-times champion Nadal, whose title defense at last year's U.S. Open ended with him retiring from the semi-finals with a knee injury, has also declared himself ready for battle.
The Spanish second seed has been drawn in the opposite half of rivals Djokovic and Federer and his biggest hurdle to the final could be fourth seed Austrian Dominic Thiem, who is his projected semi-final opponent.
Nadal, who will strive for efficiency in a bid to limit the punishment the hardcourts can inflict on his troublesome knees, may appear to have the easier path of 'Big Three' to the final but was not about to acknowledge as much.
"I have to win my matches to have an advantage because I only can meet them in the semi-finals," said Nadal. "I have plenty of work before that to know if I have an advantage or not. So let's see if I am able to do my work for my side."
(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)