Sam Groth is drawing on the magical memories of last year as he eyes another milestone moment at the US Open in New York.
One of three Australian men in first-round action on Monday, Groth knows victory over Alexandr Dolgopolov would edge him tantalisingly close to a coveted place in the world’s top 50 for the first time.
“That’s sort of been my goal since the start of the year,” Groth said on Saturday.
“It always seems like it’s not that far, but it’s a lot of points, a lot of wins.
“I feel like I’ve been having a pretty good year and certainly now for the first time I’m within a match or two of being able to crack that top-50 mark.”
It was 12 months ago at Flushing Meadows where it all really began for the power-serving Victorian.
Ranked 104th, Groth hasn’t looked back since scoring his maiden win at a grand slam event to seal a prime-time centre-court meeting with the great Roger Federer.
“So that was a huge breakthrough for me and I think that’s led to some of the success I’ve had this year for sure,” Groth said.
“To get a chance to play Federer out on Ashe on a Friday night on a packed stadium, that was just amazing.
“So I have great memories coming back here and I feel like when you enjoy playing somewhere, you normally play better.
“And I love this place. I love coming here. I feel like the surface, the balls suit my game.
“I like the city. I love the hustle and bustle. If I had the chance, I would live downtown in a city like this all the time.”
Groth has played Dolgopolov twice previously, losing a tight three-setter in his nerve-wracking Wimbledon main draw debut last year and falling in three sets in Acapulco earlier this season.
“But I feel like my game’s definitely in a better place than it was back in March when I last played him,” said Groth, a hero of Australia’s Davis Cup quarter-final comeback win over Kazakhstan last month.
If he needed confirmation of his improvement, apart from his impressive rankings rise, Groth only need to hark back to Wimbledon last month when he took a set off Federer in an entertaining third-round affair.
He then toppled top-25 stars Feliciano Lopez and Victor Troicki to reach the quarter-finals in Washington this month to secure his career-high ranking.
The unorthodox Dolgopolov presents a new challenge, but success would push the 54th-ranked Groth ever higher in the game’s pecking order.
John Millman, who gained direct entry into the main draw for the first time, and qualifier Matt Ebden are Australia’s only other two men playing on the opening day.
After freefalling out of the world’s top 1000 following a year out to recover from shoulder surgery, Millman enters his clash with Ukraine Sergiy Stakhovsky ranked 72nd and with a fighter’s chance of posting his maiden win at Flushing Meadows – just as he did at Wimbledon.
“I’m enjoying soaking it all up and I’m enjoying the joy its brought other people to have me playing at this stage,” Millman said.
“A lot of people have worked hard and backed me and believed in me to get me to this stage and it’s starting to come to fruition now.”
Also on an impressive comeback trail from injury, Ebden has a tough assignment against Bulgaria’s 17th seed Grigor Dimitrov.