Rafael Nadal is an absolute force on the tennis court and the defending U.S. Open champion. In a normal scenario, he would certainly be among the favorites or perhaps the favorite heading into the 2014 version of the Grand Slam event.
However, that’s just not the case with the Aug. 25 start of the U.S. Open less than two weeks away.
For one, we aren’t even sure if Nadal will be healthy enough to play. He injured his right wrist during a practice and was forced to miss U.S. Open tune-up tournaments in Toronto and Cincinnati. He commented on his status to reporters, via Anthony Riccobono of International Business Times:
"My dream is being there and I will work for it. If it has healed I'll have to try and see how I feel when I train and Friday or at latest Saturday a decision will be made. Time is short and we'll have to wait and see if it is enough or not.”
Even if Nadal is healthy enough to play, he won’t be 100 percent. That, along with the rust that naturally comes from missing multiple tournaments, should be taken into consideration when declaring the favorite for the event.
Nadal has not played since his disappointing loss in the Round of 16 at Wimbledon to Nick Kyrgios. Although Wimbledon has never been his strongest tournament, Nadal didn’t look like the dominating and powerful player fans have grown accustomed to seeing in recent years.
What’s more, while Nadal has missed important time, many of the other top competitors have honed their craft in Toronto and Cincinnati.
Matt Zemek of Bloguin pointed out just how deep the U.S. Open field may be this year:
So, assuming Nadal plays the U.S. Open, it's down to Murray and Dimitrov for the No. 8 seed at the U.S. Open. Tsonga will be in the 9-12 set— Matt Zemek (@mzemek) August 12, 2014
That’s right, 2012 U.S. Open champion Andy Murray is staring at a potential No. 8 seed, and red-hot Jo-Wilfried Tsonga finds himself even further down the seeding line.
Who wins the U.S. Open?
We haven’t even mentioned Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, who are fresh off a five-set thriller in the Wimbledon final that Djokovic won 6-7 (7), 6-4, 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-4. It gave Djokovic the No. 1 ranking and some confidence going forward in Grand Slam events after losing in a major final in five of his six most recent tries.
As for Tsonga, he became the first man to knock off four top-10 players on the way to a title since 2002, when he won the recent Rogers Cup in Toronto. He beat Federer, who made it to his third ATP Masters 1000 final of the year, to cap off the incredible run.
So we know the field is loaded with top competitors, and Nadal is rusty and still battling back from an injury. Sure, Nadal has won four titles in 2014 and 44 of his 52 matches, but the deck is stacked against him at the U.S. Open.
We will have a new champion this time around.
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