NEW YORK: Rafael Nadal targets a fifth US Open and 23rd Grand Slam title in New York from next week with his path to the title no longer blocked by Novak Djokovic, whose refusal to get vaccinated has ruled him out of a second major this year. Nineteen years after making his debut, the 36-year-old Nadal drags his injury-prone body into a tournament he won in 2010, 2013, 2017 and 2019, the year of his last appearance. The Spaniard has had to sit out the US Open four times in his career and there are once again fresh doubts over his physical ability to survive a gruelling two weeks at Flushing Meadows. Since an abdomen injury forced him to hand Nick Kyrgios a walkover into the Wimbledon final, Nadal has played just once — a first-up loss to Borna Coric in Cincinnati. Nadal admitted on Friday that he had been protecting his injury in Cincinnati but had been able to practice with intensity in the build-up to the US Open. Nadal has become accustomed to overcoming setbacks, winning a 14th French Open in June despite playing the whole tournament with pain-killing injections in his foot. An added incentive for Nadal is the opportunity to reclaim the world number one spot from defending champion Daniil Medvedev, the man he defeated in the 2019 final. With Roger Federer still absent from the tour and with question marks over Nadal’s fitness and Djokovic’s absence, the race for the men’s title is likely to be as open as recent years. Marin Cilic, Stan Wawrinka, Dominic Thiem and Medvedev have all broken the New York stranglehold of the “Big Three” since 2014.