Through the past few years, tennis fans from all over the world have seen the biggest names in the sport compete in some great US Open matches. Roger Federer won the trophy five years in a row from 2004 to 2008 before Juan Martin del Potro derailed him in a five set final thriller in 2009.
Rafael Nadal won his first ever US Open to complete the Career Grand Slam. The Spaniard won again three years later in 2013. Andy Murray claimed his first Slam, upsetting the then world number one Novak Djokovic, to end Britain’s seven-decade wait for a Grand Slam winner. Last year, Stan Wawrinka, likewise, defeated Djokovic to claim his third Grand Slam title. The Serb, despite five US Open final defeats, is himself a two-time champion in New York.
However, over the last 12 months, various unforeseen events occurred that shook the tennis world. Injuries and early season exits for some of the biggest names in the sport became a major story in the 2017 season. Whilst the return of those players is expected, the impact of their absence from the sport’s biggest events cannot be ignored.
With the absence of top players who would otherwise be the favourites to compete for titles such as the US Open, the opportunity for unexpected winners arises. Federer benefited from Djokovic and Murray’s early exits in Melbourne, whilst Alexander Zverev was able to claim his first Masters titles in Rome and Montreal. Meanwhile, Serena Williams’ absence after the Australian Open has seen the WTA Tour at its most open for more than a decade.
But which three absences will have the biggest impact on the US Open?
Third, is the great Serena Williams. With a total of 23 Grand Slam titles to her name, she is just one away from tying Margaret Court’s record of 24 titles. The impact of her absence on the WTA Tour can hardly be overstated. The 35-year-old American dominated the tennis world, winning her last 10 Slams between 2012 and 2017. But despite that dominance, Williams announced shortly after her Australian Open triumph that she would play no more tennis in 2017.
The reason for her absence was not injury, but rather pregnancy, with her having given both during the US Open. Williams managed to win the season-opener Australian Open in Melbourne despite being eight weeks pregnant, defeating her sister Venus in the finals. Thereafter she withdrew from the events in Indian Wells and Key Biscayne, at that time citing knee issues. She formally announced to the media afterwards that she was calling time on her 2017 season due to her pregnancy.
Williams is usually the favourite when she is playing, especially in New York. She is surely the best player of her era and one of the world’s most prominent athletes. Always cheered on by almost all of the fans on home soil, she has had some of the best moments of her career at Flushing Meadows. Indeed, she has won there six times. But with her absence in 2017, a chance has arisen for rising stars and veterans alike to possibly conquer New York.
Elina Svitolina, recently the winner in Montreal will hold hopes of a deep run in New York. She is yet to progress beyond the quarter-finals at a Major but has been playing very solid tennis so far in the Open, dropping just one set. However, she may have to conquer the world number one if she wants to taste glory in the Big Apple.
It is arguably the 25-year-old Karolina Pliskova who will have the most hunger and desire to win the event after falling short last year in the final. She is also yet to win a Grand Slam despite sitting atop the world rankings. With other seeds crashing out early, including Garbine Muguruza, Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep, there is no shortage of opportunity for a deep run.
Stan Wawrinka is widely held to be the only player able to challenge the foursome of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray. Wawrinka has claimed three Grand Slams and has victories over each of the Big Four in Grand Slam play. But despite winning the US Open last year, Wawrinka, unfortunately, cannot defend his title due to a persistent knee injury that requires surgery. The Swiss star announced his withdrawal due to his desire to ‘be able to compete at the top level for many more years,’ planning to return in 2018.
Wawrinka joined Djokovic on the sidelines, ensuring that the US Open will be without either of its 2016 finalists. But despite his US Open heroics last year, Wawrinka has not been able to capture another Slam this year. He was stopped in the semi-finals of the Australian Open by Federer, lost to champion Nadal in the Roland Garros final, and was upset by world number 49 Daniil Medvedev of Russia at Wimbledon. He concluded his 2017 season with a 26-11 win-loss record, claiming just one title in Geneva.
Wawrinka’s absence, first and foremost, will boost other players’ chances of contending for the title. Knowing that the defending champion is out of the tournament will surely boost players’ morale. Indeed, we have seen it already with unheralded names such as Diego Schwartzman and Pablo Carreno Busta reaching the quarter-finals. It has also provided the chances for some of the Next Gen stars to make their mark, particularly Denis Shapovalov. The Canadian’s thrilling run to the fourth round earned him plenty of fans in New York and will see him become a top 60 player at the US Open’s conclusion.
There are few players better suited to compete at the US Open than former world number one Djokovic but injury has ended his 2017, ruling him out of the tournament and ending a run of competing at 51 straight Slams. Djokovic announced, following his retirement in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon, that he would be resting for the remainder of the season. The reason for it was a bone bruise on his right elbow that had been hampering him for around 18 months. It went some way to explaining the Serb’s sudden decline during his historic 2016 season.
Every athlete is prone to injury following a long career of rigorous competition. Djokovic’s tenacious climb to the top of the sport and the effort he exerted to retain his position were likely to catch up with him at some point. After over a decade in which Djokovic was spared a major injury, his luck ran out, leading to disappointment at the Olympics, the 2016 US Open, and throughout 2017.
His absence will surely lead to the continuation of the rivalry of his fellow greats Federer and Nadal. The pair have gone head-to-head and toe-to-toe since the early days of their careers, having clashed in 37 matches. That includes their epic Australian Open final from which Federer emerged victorious in five sets to claim his 18th Slam. They also clashed in Indian Wells and Miami, with Federer winning both. Federer and Nadal have also won the three Grand Slams of 2017 so far, with the Swiss victorious in Melbourne and Wimbledon, and Nadal conquering Paris for the 10th time.
For Federer, nothing would be sweeter than if he can achieve another historic moment by winning a 20th Grand Slam. Nadal is revitalising his career and is back at the top of the ATP rankings. Nadal will try to secure his position by winning a third US Open title. It would also mark a first hard court title since 2014, a three-year drought that the Spaniard is surely desperate to end.
And, as we have seen already, even without some of the biggest names, it is thrilling to see which ATP and WTA stars will battle for this season’s final Slam.
Which absentee do you think has impacted the draw the most? Let us know in the comments below!
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