The overriding storyline, at least in the days leading up to the US Open, will obviously be Rafael Nadal’s absence. There is almost a feeling that his absence will play an important factor in who can win this tournament. And while it is a shame that the Slam could almost be more about who isn’t playing than who is, this feeling does have good reason behind it. After all, before shockingly being upset by Lukas Rosol at Wimbledon this year, the last time Nadal lost at a Slam to a player who is not currently in the top 10 was to Robin Soderling at the 2009 French Open. You have to go all the way back to the 2007 Australian Open to find the time before that.
And Nadal not being involved certainly does change the dynamics of the tournament. No one has ever beaten 3 of the “Big 4″ in a Grand Slam (though the case could definitely be made that Del Potro would have at the 2009 US Open had Murray not been upset before he could meet him). And with the way those 4 have been dominating Slams recently, it is not an outrageous assumption to think that beating 3 of them would have been required for anyone else to win the tournament. And the path to the final will certainly be easier for whichever of the top 2 draws Ferrer in his half.
But Nadal’s absence means so much more than an easier semifinal match for one of the top 2. It means that a 32 players will have a much more of a chance to even reach the semifinals. And while the US Open has historically been Nadal’s worst Slam, he has by no means been easily beatable there. And if his Slam performances from 2010 and 2011 are any indication, it would have taken a tremendous showing by another of the “Big 4″, let alone any other player, to beat him. But with Nadal not playing, that means that a whole quarter of the draw will be wide open. Just about any seeded player could win whatever quarter Ferrer is in (though Ferrer himself is no pushover, he is much, much more beatable than Nadal), and maybe even the right unseeded player could come out of his quarter.
1. Roger Federer- There really is so little to separate Fed and Djokovic right now that I decided to put whoever won the Cincinnati final as the #1 favorite. And even with Federer taking a love set, it’s still incredibly close. Now, it’s hard to base too much on Cincinnati. Both clearly wanted to win that match, but both also clearly didn’t invest as much in it as they do when they meet at a Slam. Federer looks a tiny bit better on this surface in general right now, but the difference is so small that it can change in an instant.
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. As always, thoughts and opinions are welcome and requested.