- Associated Press - Sunday, August 26, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) - Champion at Wimbledon in both singles and doubles. Winner again in both events at the All England Club, four weeks later at the London Olympics.

Nobody would blame Serena Williams if she felt worn down by this year’s jam-packed tennis calendar. She doesn’t see it that way, though _ even with the grind of the U.S. Open looming.

“I look forward to this,” Williams said. “It’s almost like a launching pad for what I want to do for the rest of the hard-court season.”

In a way, yes, Monday’s start of the year’s last Grand Slam actually marks something of a new beginning _ the kickoff of a six-month stretch on the hard courts that winds down at the 2013 Australian Open.

Call it mental gymnastics, a creative way of looking at things or whatever else might apply. What can’t be denied is that in an Olympic year, the U.S. Open _ considered the toughest test in tennis even under normal circumstances _ is essentially the season’s fifth major. That makes for quite a grueling season for the players.

“A lot of them,” Jim Courier said, “are running on fumes.”

Indeed, many have had to double down on their fitness and find new, creative ways of organizing their schedules to get ready for what they hope will be a two-week grind in the fishbowl that is Flushing Meadows.

Defending champion Novak Djokovic barely took any time off following his fourth-place finish at the Olympics. He traveled to Toronto for a hard-court tuneup, played six matches and won the tournament.

Then, he flew to Cincinnati and played six more matches but lost to Roger Federer in the final. No shame there, though that loss to Federer did include an uncharacteristic 6-0 whitewashing in the first set.

“Mentally, I wasn’t there, wasn’t fresh,” Djokovic said. “It had been a very busy time starting at the Olympic Games, and maybe that caught up with me at the end.”

No big deal in Cincinnati. But a half-hour mental lapse in New York could mean the end of Djokovic’s quest to win what has, essentially, shaped up as the tiebreaker major for 2012.

Second-seeded Djokovic won the Australian Open. Rafael Nadal won the French Open. Top-seeded Federer won Wimbledon. Just for good measure, third-seeded Andy Murray won the Olympics, meaning the U.S. Open could essentially determine the player of the year in men’s tennis.

Some combination of Nadal _ absent this year because of a knee injury _ and the other three have occupied every spot in the finals of the past eight Grand Slam tournaments.

Who has the most to gain over the upcoming two weeks? John McEnroe thinks it’s Murray, who has the Olympic gold, but is still in search of his first Grand Slam title.

“The way it pans out, it’s conceivable that Murray could make an argument were he to win this … that you could say he’s the best player in the world this year,” McEnroe said. “To me, that’s an unbelievable upside.”

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