The U.S. Open hasn't been the same without Rafael Nadal. It's like watching a major without Tiger Woods, or like watching an Olympic swimming event without Michael Phelps.
When the top competition is all in the mix, the results are always better—even if it means your favorites don't win, and even if it means you don't get the outcome you wanted to see. When the top competition is in the mix, it means the best player truly wins, and when one of the best is out of commission, the results never mean as much.
Which is why Rafa has to return for the Davis Cup semifinals next month.
Even Nadal's toughest competition is well aware of the fact that a Davis Cup triumph won't mean as much if Nadal isn't around to help Spain defend its title.
Upon hearing that Nadal may not return to the courts until 2013, John Isner told the Agence France-Presse, via Yahoo! Sports:
"I'm not going to sit here and say that I don't want him to play. Everyone wants him to be healthy. Honestly, if it was up to me, I would want him to play. I would want Spain to send out their absolute best team."
Added world No. 1 Roger Federer, via the AFP, "I'm not shocked about the news. I'm still hopeful that he'll be okay for the rest of the year."
The superstar missed out on the Olympics because of another knee injury, which could explain his untimely, second-round exit at Wimbledon. After missing the Olympics, he missed the U.S. Open, too, a major at which he is 13-1 over the last two years, according to SI.com's Jon Wertheim.
No matter who wins the Open this year—whether it be Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer or someone else—there will essentially be an asterisk next to the win, marking that it was a win earned the year in which Nadal couldn't play.
The Los Angeles Times' Bill Dwyre put it best:
"Nadal plays tennis like Lombardi's Packers ran the power sweep. If he hits 500 ground strokes in a match, he hits each one with power and aggression. There are few surprises. His opponents know what is coming. They just can't do much about it. He is the bombast in a tournament, the street fighter, the guy who gets off the canvas, time after time, bloodied and battered, and still lands the final haymaker."
How can the results of a Grand Slam be anywhere near as exciting when a player like that isn't in the mix?
It's not just that it's not as much fun to watch the U.S. Open—or any major—without Nadal. The victories never seem as hard-fought; they don't mean as much. And that's going to happen all over again in a month if one of the greatest players ever is still out of commission.