The 2013 U.S. Open is the ultimate tennis proving ground for the stars of the ATP and WTA. It offers the most competitors who can use their talents to create tough matchups for every player with ambitions to win the title.
The top players always feel pressure to win, but some players need a great showing to move their careers forward. They must prove they are the best in tennis, especially if they have been snakebitten in recent big matches and Grand Slam opportunities.
The following players top our list. We will put ourselves directly into each player's shoes to better understand why they have the most to prove.
There's really nothing left for you to prove in your tennis career. Sure you would love to win more Grand Slam titles, and it has been five years since those five consecutive U.S. Open titles.
It's a great opportunity for you to be a snake in the grass. Maybe you can ambush Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals. Perhaps you can summon up the recovery and stamina to grind through the second weekend with the trophy on the table.
You would love to prove to the tennis world that you are still a Grand Slam champion at age 32, even if you do not need this title to validate your legacy.
Like Federer, you have been so dominant for so long. You really don't need the title to prove anything.
That doesn't mean you are not the favorite to win this tournament. You have won four U.S. Open titles—but never in back-to-back years. A title now would add to your legendary credentials.
Besides, Cincinnati probably still does not sit well with you. You would love nothing more than to mix it up again with the world's No. 2-ranked player, Victoria Azarenka, in the final. She has won two of your past three matches. You would love to give a performance lesson to remind the WTA who rules the tour.
Is time running out for Caroline Wozniacki as a legitimate contender in the WTA? You're tired of hearing this, but it's only getting louder. Soon enough, nobody will care if you keep playing subpar tennis. Is it fair to say you will no longer be a tennis star if you are run out in the first few rounds?
Was your time as the No. 1-ranked player in the WTA just a flash in the pan? It's still hard to explain 67 weeks at the top without a Grand Slam title. Maybe you only achieved this because the WTA was more like feuding clans, before Serena Williams pushed back to the top and resumed her dominance.
Your best run at the U.S. Open was in 2009. You made it all the way to the final as a 19-year-old prodigy, but you have not since matched this Grand Slam success.
Your draw is kind as the No. 6 seed. You are the favorite all the way to the quarterfinals with the possibility of battling clay-court specialist Sara Errani for the semifinals.
Now is the time for you to prove you are still a force in the WTA. You must at least get to the semifinals for a successful 2013 U.S. Open and possible career comeback. Are you up to it?
You're Tomas Berdych, and you've just inched into the No. 5 ranking. Last year, you defeated Roger Federer at the U.S. Open and took the first set of the semifinals against eventual champion Andy Murray.
Then the winds came. You couldn't toss the ball properly on your serve and became disoriented with how to hit anything but forehands that sprayed the outer realms of the tennis court. It was one more wasted opportunity that nags at the back of your mind.
Now you've been given a cupcake draw, sprinkled with players who don't have your ball-striking talents. You should cruise to the quarterfinals if you can keep your head.
Ah, but why does everyone have to bring that up? Is it true that your difficulties in big matches have been one feature after another of succumbing to the pressure? Can you show greater heart and resolve against the likes of Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic and get to your second Grand Slam final?
It doesn't matter what anyone else says. You are the one with the racket and the talent. Your footwork and defense don't have to be world class for you to bear up and control the action. It's really up to you to win if you want to prove you are a legitimate Grand Slam contender.
Keep your head up, Sara Errani. You've come so far the past two years, winning doubles Grand Slam titles and now becoming a force in WTA singles in your mid-20s. It has taken a lot of hard work and effort as you seek to track down every ball and send it back with location and loopy spin.
But the U.S. Open is not played on clay. You will need to prove your semifinalist appearance last year was not a fluke.
Never mind that you grabbed the No. 4 seed at the U.S. Open because Maria Sharapova could not play. Fortunately, there are no other world-beaters in your draw, but now the pressure is on for you to win a Grand Slam title.
You probably thought the pressure was off when you won the U.S. Open last year, right? Well, that's not the way it works. Now you must prove your mettle as the fourth member of the Fab Four. There's no margin for error here, even after winning Wimbledon.
Was Montreal and Cincinnati really your best efforts, or is it too much to pretend it's like playing in a Grand Slam? Maybe your losses there were just to hungrier players who had their day. Unfortunately, this does not help your cause if you want to one day obtain the No. 1 ranking. Meanwhile, Nadal has stormed into the hard-court season as if this was his territory.
This should be the peak of your tennis year, Andy. You must defend your title and capture other important Masters 1000 titles at places like Paris and Shanghai. The World Tour Finals is also there to prove the best of the best.
The draw is fairly good to the semifinals. You would like to reinforce your status as a big-match player when it's three of five sets.
Most of all, you need to win this U.S. Open title because Nadal and Djokovic both want it very badly, and they will not roll over. This could be one more great success for your career as an elite player, or you could be the third wheel of the rivalries.
How many times do you have to hear about 2009? Does it bother you that your only Grand Slam title came at age 20 and that you might go down in history as a one-Slam wonder?
And it's not like tennis fans don't respect you. You are always everyone's dark horse or dangerous threat to win a Grand Slam title. You have shown you can beat Murray, Federer and Djokovic in big matches. You even showed your heart in battling Djokovic to the end of a fifth set in the Wimbledon final.
So what's left?
Seriously, it's time to win this tournament again. Show everyone you are a real champion. Djokovic is no longer invincible and, at the least, vulnerable to your heavy hitting. You see, we expect you to battle it out to get to the semifinals; if you win there, many will be picking you to defeat Murray.
Can you just prove you are great for two straight weeks? That's a question that continues to grow larger as you head into your mid-20s.
You've been the No. 1 player in the WTA and hold the past two Australian Open titles. You were a finalist at the U.S. Open in 2012, and you just defeated Serena Williams in Cincinnati. You seem ready to turn around your woes in this rivalry, and you just played her with more fight and belief than ever before.
But it's also true that few articles are penned without mentioning Williams as some kind of obstacle. You wear her like an albatross around the neck and want to prove that you can supplant her as the best player in the world.
The road to winning a Grand Slam runs through Williams. This is your chance to defeat her for the U.S. Open title rather than watch Father Time do the conquering for you.
Sharapova is out, and you are the best player in your half of the draw. Greatness could be just beginning.
Almost there, Rafa. Even after winning titles in Montreal and Cincinnati, there is still unfinished business at hand. Few would go so far as to say it's title or failure at the U.S. Open, but many have now pegged you as the favorite.
First, there will be the lurking reminders of the past two Wimbledon tournaments. Will you survive the early rounds and keep charging with your relentless energy? Can you survive a bad day with a tough draw that includes possible matches against some talented players, including old nemesis Nikolay Davydenko or Fernando Verdasco?
We won't even bring up the possibility of playing career rival Roger Federer for the first time ever at the U.S. Open. It's still too far away.
But the ultimate goal is to win a second career title at Flushing Meadows and a third Grand Slam title on hard courts. Do this, and you will all but rip down the door in returning to No. 1.
You've won it all, but you have a lot to prove for a few more years. Maybe no player ever has bounced back with more epic surprises. You are the ultimate underdog champion, but how does it feel to be the favorite far from the confines of Roland Garros?
In February 2012, your rival, Nadal, faced a career crisis. You had defeated him for the third straight Grand Slam final and had now owned your tennis rivalry. Your dominance was thorough, and he had to scrap his way back to turn the tables.
Now you reversed roles. While he storms ahead seeking the U.S. Open title and your No. 1 ranking, you must prove that you are still the best player in tennis. You must prove you can win Grand Slam titles away from Melbourne, Australia.
You have been so consistent in getting to at least the semifinals. It's the surest bet in tennis right now. Certainly nobody questions your work ethic, stamina and courage to fight your best when you play tennis.
But you have dropped some big matches, and the low murmurings have become a chorus. We've even questioned if you can regain your aura by winning the 2013 U.S. Open.
You are a six-time Grand Slam champion, but one thing is clear: Nobody is more desperate to win the U.S. Open title than you. You have a lot to prove.