World No. 2 Novak Djokovic will go into the 2012 U.S. Open as the favorite considering he has won the last three Grand Slam events on a hard court. That was likely to be the case even if Rafael Nadal was in the draw.
The absence of Nadal propels Roger Federer as the second favorite to win in New York, which would give him six U.S. Open trophies. Federer has won every single Grand Slam that Nadal has failed to reach the second week in since the 2004 French Open.
If Djokovic or Federer nail down the U.S. Open title, that will make the number seven a very significant one when analyzing the big three in today's era of tennis. Those two would have combined to win seven Australian Open titles and seven U.S. Open titles, while Nadal has seven French Opens and Federer has seven Wimbledon titles.
With all of that said, this U.S. Open has the feeling of one of the best chances in a while for someone outside of the three aforementioned men to win a Grand Slam title. Andy Murray, 2009 champion Juan Martin del Potro, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga all have to feel like they have a pretty good chance at this title.
The 2012 Djokovic is nowhere near the one that we saw last year in 2011, and he lost to both Murray and Del Potro at the Olympics. While hard court is his best surface, something has seemed off with the Serb over the last few months.
Federer has had a strong 2012 season but has played a lot of tennis this summer, and that seemed to catch up with him in losing the gold-medal match to Murray. He takes very good care of his body, but at the age of 31 it is harder for him to recover between matches.
If it's not Djokovic or Federer making the winning speech at the end of the U.S. Open fortnight, it will be the first time since 2003 that a different man won each of the four Grand Slams. That's hard to imagine after the run Djokovic and Nadal had between the 2010 and 2012 French Opens.