Barring yet another rain delay, the semifinals and finals of the 2012 U.S. Open tennis tournament will be completed this weekend.
Certainly, there will be a lot of excitement surrounding the last two rounds of play in both the women's and men's draws. Crowds of tennis fans will storm the gates at Flushing Meadows and line the seats surrounding a stage typically offering the highest level of tennis seen on American soil during a calendar year.
Outside the stadium, those unlucky few without tickets will hear the grunts and groans of the final four players gutting it out for an impressive piece of hardware and a sizable payday. One of those players might even be preparing to launch an incredible career or a run at the history books.
But, something will be very different about the 2012 U.S. Open in New York, something that hasn't happened over the course of 33 previous Grand Slam events—which equates to approximately 8.5 human years.
Strolling through the locker rooms during this final weekend may produce an eerie feeling. At first, you might not be able to put your finger on it. Everything will look the same, but a pervasive feeling that something is missing will emanate through your body—like walking around the campus of a school you attended in the past.
Things look the same, but they aren't. Feelings from the past are mixed with the present, and something is missing.
For the first time in nearly nine years, there is definitely something missing from the final weekend of the 2012 U.S. Open. This tournament marks the first time since the 2004 French Open that neither Roger Federer nor Rafael Nadal will compete in the semifinals of a Grand Slam.
How many more times will Federer and Nadal face each other in a Grand Slam final?
That's right, no Federer. No Nadal.
On their own, these players have produced some of the best tennis the sport has ever seen. But together, going toe-to-toe, tennis was taken to a magical level.
For a period of time, the prospect of seeing Federer and Nadal compete in the finals of a Grand Slam tournament was like a drug for tennis fans. Once we sampled it, we wanted more; we needed more.
These two brought out the best in each other, and as fans, all we could do was look on with our mouths agape and try to comprehend the brilliance before us—like an amateur chess player trying to fathom the strategy and moves of a master.
It's well known that the rivalry produced what many consider the greatest match of all time: the 2008 Wimbledon final. However, there were many other amazing matches, including the 2009 Australian Open final—a match that many hoped might be their first of many meetings on hard court in a major final, not potentially their last.
But the reality is, for the first time since 2004, neither player will be involved in the penultimate round of play in a Grand Slam. For those involved with the sport, this is a highly distressing non-event.
For anyone that loves high-level tennis, the fear that we are drawing closer to the end of one of the greatest eras in tennis history has become more palpable. Aside from their own individual careers and their amazing rivalry, the two have meant so much more to the sport.
The level of competition that Federer and Nadal produced on court helped catalyze the level that Novak Djokovic brought to the table in 2011.
In that effort, the man appeared possessed. And, against two of the greatest of all time, he produced one of the greatest seasons of all time, nearly capturing four consecutive Grand Slam tournaments against Federer and Nadal.
It's almost unthinkable—to win four consecutive Grand Slam trophies against the likes of Federer and Nadal. Thanks to Nadal in the 2012 French Open, it remains unthinkable.
But, if you saw the 2012 Australian Open final, then you know just how deep Djokovic had to dig. That match transcended the sport of tennis. It was like a hybrid tennis and heavyweight boxing match. It became such a physical battle that both players were swaying on their feet and could barely stand after the match.
At five hours and 53 minutes, it was the longest Grand Slam final ever, and it was absolutely unbelievable to behold. The level reached in that match must be attributed to the gold standard that Federer and Nadal brought to the game.
We can only hope that the current situation at the 2012 U.S. Open is temporary and an aberration—that Federer is merely feeling the effects of a longer-than-usual season that included an extra campaign at the Olympics, and that Nadal will fully recover from his current knee ailments.
We can hope that their streak of semifinals will resume in 2013 with the possibility of another Grand Slam final meeting between the two. However, that's a hope, not a certainty.
If it does happen, you might want to free up some time to watch. Oftentimes, we aren't aware an era has passed until it's already gone.