The Australian Open just won't be the same without Rafael Nadal.
Sure, Nadal has always been better at Wimbledon and virtually unbeatable at the French Open. However, tennis has become a four-player game on the men's side—alongside Rafa, it's all about Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray—and not having Nadal to complete that group is a major disappointment at the year's first Grand Slam.
Another disappointment for many is the reason why Nadal withdrew from the tournament.
From Kamakshi Tandon of ESPN:
Rafael Nadal was ruled out early on when he announced his withdrawal from the tournament before the new season had even begun. The cause wasn't the knee injury that has kept him out since Wimbledon. The official reason was a stomach virus, which led him to first pull out of an exhibition warm-up in Abu Dhabi and then both Doha and the Australian Open.
He has been seen practicing since and probably would have been physically recovered by the time the Australian Open starts, but it sounds as if he and his team felt it was unrealistic to try to play without any warm-up events—particularly since Nadal wasn't sounding completely certain about his fitness or the state of his knee.
Rafa was felled not by his knee, but by his stomach.
At this point, any Grand Slam in which the semifinals don't include Rafa, Djokovic, Federer and Murray is a major disappointment. When one of them doesn't even play in the tournament at all, it's even worse.
I'm not saying there aren't other really talented players in the world—don't get me wrong.
I'm just saying it's a foregone conclusion that one of those four will win every Grand Slam. The last player outside of the "Big Four" to win a Grand Slam was Juan Martin Del Potro at the U.S. Open in 2009.
That's right, folks. The last 12 Grand Slams have been won by the Big Four. Parity isn't a word the men's tennis community is familiar with these days.
It's been a while since we've seen Nadal in action. He last played at Wimbledon, when he shockingly lost to Lukas Rosol. Half a year later, we're still waiting to see the return of one of the game's biggest stars.
I look forward to the Australian Open every year, and this year is no different. Still, knowing Rafa won't be involved has certainly tempered my excitement. I thought 2012 was going to be the year when Nadal and Djokovic regularly did battle to determine the world's top player.
I then figured 2013 would be that year, with perhaps Murray making his case as well.
However, if Nadal is going to enter that conversation, he'll have some catching up to do after missing the Australian Open. In the meantime, the rest of us will have to wonder "what if?" with Nadal sidelined.