When the Australian Open draws were announced, the most notable part of the bracket was the absence of Rafael Nadal.
The Spanish star withdrew from the Grand Slam tournament after dealing with a stomach virus that held him out of practice (via Yahoo!). A knee injury that kept him away from competition for the past few months also likely played a factor.
This is dramatic news for Nadal's future, as one has to question how well the tennis player will be able to perform after missing this much competition.
However, the next concern is for the sport. Without the 11-time Grand Slam winner, there is not much depth at the top.
Looking at the 2013 Australian Open bracket, it is apparent that Nadal would have made a large difference. It not only limits the amount of possible winners, but it creates a huge imbalance in the bracket.
Based on his world ranking, Nadal would have been the No. 4 seed in the tournament behind Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray. Regardless of how the spots were drawn, this would have been a very entertaining set of semifinals if the seeds held.
Djokovic is the defending champion and has one this event a total of three times. Federer is one of the best players of all time and has won 17 total Grand Slams. Although Murray just won his first Grand Slam at the 2012 U.S. Open, he is currently one of the hottest players in the world.
Combine this with the skill and experience of a healthy Nadal, and anyone could have a chance to win.
Unfortunately, the current No. 4 seed is David Ferrer. While the Spanish player has a great deal of talent, he is nowhere near the skill level of the top players in the world. The 30-year-old veteran has never reached the finals of a major and has only won a single Masters 1000 title.
While Murray and Federer are set to face each other in the semifinals, Djokovic has a much easier potential matchup with Ferrer. In reality, this is the type of opponent he would expect to see earlier in the tournament.
The only other real threat on the side of the No. 1 player in the world is Tomas Berdych, who holds a 1-11 career record against Djokovic.
Fans love to see entertaining finals in big tournaments, but they also want to see the top stars be challenged in earlier rounds.
Hopefully, Nadal can return soon and create more balance in the tennis world. Otherwise, we might as well start giving the top players byes into the later rounds to save some time.
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