If this year has shown us anything, it is not to count out old favorites. It is not so much that they have broken out this year as much as they seem to have improved with age.
Indeed, though I have not researched the question, it is possible that there are few, if any, periods of tennis in which two (Roger Federer and David Ferrer) of the top five ranked men's tennis players in the world and two (Serena Williams and Li Na) of the top nine women are over thirty.
Andy Roddick will turn thirty during the U.S. Open, and several other men are 27 or older, including Tommy Haas (34), Stan Wawrinka (28) and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga (28). As for the women, an incredible eight out of the top 30 are thirty or older.
Let the old times roll!
What is perhaps more troublesome for tennis this U.S. Open is that Rafael Nadal and perhaps Juan del Potro will not be playing this year. That Venus Williams, finally diagnosed with a very debilitating disease or else she would undoubtedly be in the top 10, is a mere shadow of her former self and that injuries real or imagined kept so many out of Cincinnati this year.
With Nadal, this is nothing new.
Nadal has missed so much time due to injuries that one has to believe this is a sign of weaknesses—either structural or due to his type of play, especially on clay. Just how great he could have been is unclear.
What is clear is that his work was too great, the effort for his style of play too extreme to provide consistent presence necessary to be the best in the world.
What is possible is that the long rallies that mark so many great clay players can break the player down earlier than those who use quick net play to shorten points.
As for del Potro, we also face structural questions, although play could also have affected his wrists. First the right, now the left.
Few realize or remember how young Juan del Potro is and what an incredible hero he was when he returned home; nearly 40,000 turned out from a total population of 120,000 after he won the US Open. The picture in the link is enough to demonstrate this craziness.
However, why his win was not touted for what it was—a win by not only the tallest but perhaps the most talented 20-year-old in hard-court history—is beyond me.
If two of the best hard-court players in the world are absent from this year's U.S. Open, we have three who are potential spoilers on the men's side.
It is unlikely that someone other than Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic will prevail over the next weeks of play at Flushing Meadows. The old men mentioned above are almost certain tough matches for anyone who meets them.
As for the women's side, we have little to work with.
Are the sometimes missing-in-action, including Maria Sharapova, Kim Clijsters and Victoria Azarenka, going to provide something worth watching, or will Serena again show that, despite injuries and a dangerous temper that erupted again this past week, she is at the top of the women's tennis world?
Before you consider what has happened to tennis players these days—for injuries seem much more commonplace than in the past—you should consider why some are not injured as much.
If you think the reason is not playing as much as other players, as TV commentators stated yesterday during the Cincinnati finals, think again.
Roger Federer, who has complained about his injuries recently, has played in more tournaments than Djokovic and Nadal. And old guys Roddick, Ferrer and Mikhail Youzhny (another 30 year old in the top 30) can mix things up with tough matches, even though they have all played more than these two stars.
So what are we doing here? Who is tired and who is not?
For that matter, what difference does it make to the men or women when Serena and Roger are playing?