Novak Djokovic earned a spot in the semis, but the biggest storyline from the Western & Southern Open may be around who’s not there.
Of course, that individual who’s not there is a certain Rafael Nadal. Nadal, who was sidelined to recover from a knee injury, also missed the Olympics and a chance to be the flag bearer for Spain. Without Nadal, who has been a favorite in the tournament for many years, Djokovic and Federer share the men’s limelight. But that doesn’t mean that Nadal’s absence has gone unnoticed.
I am very sad to announce that I am not ready to play the US Open in NY. Thanks to my fans for their support and specially, the new yorkers.— Rafa Nadal (@RafaelNadal) August 15, 2012
His absence is felt especially by the tournament executives.
"We're certainly disappointed that Rafa won't be able to play in Cincinnati this year," said tournament director Vince Cicero. "He's one of the great competitors in the sport and he will be sorely missed."
Of course, it’s no surprise that many of the media stories have been covering Nadal’s return rather than the actual play of those currently competing. The news of no timetable for his return, however, was shocking for many tennis fans across the world.
"The best thing I can do now is to stop, get fully well, accept the situation and work hard to come back better,” said Nadal, who has not competed since June. The news has been especially hard for tennis fans, considering how much more interesting the sport is when Nadal is playing at an elite level.
Rumors have swirled that Nadal may need surgery, which could (if jumping the gun) mean the beginning of the end for his sensational career.
Regrettably so for some, the Western & Southern Open have continued without him in 2012. Federer and Djokovic opened the first round with a bye. Federer then beat Alex Bogoomolov, Jr. in two sets in the second round, Bernard Tomic in two sets in the third round and Mardy Fish in two sets.
Djokovic has also swept through the tournament. He beat Andreas Seppi in two sets in Round Two, Nikolay Davydenko retired injured in one set (6-0), and Marin Celic in two sets in Round Three.
The competition field, however, simply seems infinitely weaker in the absence of Rafael Nadal.
Nadal, who claims to not be worried about a potential falling of his ranking, currently rests on a Spanish island called Mallorca. Nadal is currently ranked No. 3 in the world, but that could plummet without competing.
And with Andy Murray already out, Federer and Djokovic are the clear talks of the town.
"I'm very pleased that I was able to play at a high level and keep there throughout the match," said Federer.
Djokovic echoes similar sentiments.
"It was my best match so far here in this tournament and came in the right moment, really,” said Djokovic. "I had the biggest challenge today with Cilic who has been playing well the last couple of months and I played a really good match."
As the Western & Southern Open continues, we’ll be sure to watch and see how the two superstars continue to compete.
Regardless of the outcome, however, the story will still be focused on Rafael Nadal and his unfortunate injury.