Twelve days before the beginning of the season’s fourth and final Grand Slam tourney, the tennis world was shocked by Rafael Nadal’s decision not to play.
The former ATP number one and current number three has watched his season decline since winning at Rolland Garros in June. Consistently, it became clear that Rafael was not in proper form, and fans and players alike began to wonder what his US Open fate would be. (Read more @ “This Just In: Rafa May be Out.”)
The question has been answered. Many believe we will not see Rafa again until the Australian Open in 2013. He told Sports Illustrated, “I will compete when my knee says I am ready to compete. I don’t want to go on court with bad feeling because then it is terrible.”
Now, no one can say for sure that Rafael, (had he been in good condition) would have even made it past the first round. Upsets happen. You just never know. Still, it is more likely to assume that he would have made it pretty far when you look at his track record. Perhaps he would have faced Federer in the finals, or his rival Djokovic. Would anyone be particularly surprised? The top three players are a bit of a trio, rotating around, constantly winding up across the net from one another.
No one can be expected to fill the triad right away, but the question on everyone’s mind has become: If Rafa did “free up a spot,” so to speak, then who will fill it? Let’s look through my top-three most likely candidates.
The Brit doesn’t have a single Slam title under his belt, and yet he was able to come out victorious in showdowns with both Djokovic AND Federer at the Olympics this month, taking it all and walking away with gold on his home turf. The ATP number four has a great chance of making the finals. Throughout his career, he has defeated Federer in nine matches, and Djokovic in six. Who’s to say he couldn’t finally succeed at a Grand Slam?
Juan Martin del Porto:
The 23 year old Argentinian has been commanding a lot of attention lately. At the 2012 Olympics, he defeated Novak Djokovic in the battle for bronze. At the beginning of 2010 he got as high as number four in the ranking, now number nine – nothing to sneeze at. In 2009, he defeated Rafael at the US Open to make it to the finals with Federer, where he ultimately walked away with the trophy. It was his first and only Slam title, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t take it all this month.
The 27 year old Frenchman is number six in the world but hasn’t yet had his moment to really shine. Like Andy Murray, he has never received a Grand Slam title, but was a quarter-finalist in the 2012 French Open and 2011 US Open, and a semi-finalist at Wimbledon 2012. He’s done well in the past on the hard courts at the Australian Open, (finalist ’08, quarter-finalist ’09, semi-finalist ’10). He’s known for the same “electric” style of play attributed to Nadal, with a powerful serve and impressive agility for his 6’2″ frame. He is without a doubt the underdog, but is certainly a player to watch this month.
It truly is anyone’s guess when it comes to the US Open and who would ever take Nadal’s place. Rafael is a player unlike any other and his ferocity and entertaining play will doubtlessly be missed. Regardless of the tourney’s outcome sans Nadal, our fingers should be crossed for him to return in 2013. The great Roger Federer, 31, has his seasons numbered at this point in his career. It would be incredbily sad to see a young, potential “greatest” such as Rafa out for good so soon, especially when we may not be seeing Roger Federer for too much longer.
Either way, the show must go on. Take you picks and tune in August 27th to see it all begin.