The 2014 U.S. Open is just days away from setting the tennis world aflame, but already there is news that puts a slight damper on the highly-anticipated affair.
Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal won last year's edition of this tournament, but the latter won't be defending his title due to an injured right wrist.
Williams has the opportunity to win her third U.S. Open in a row, and is in fine form heading into the tournament after claiming her first Western & Southern Open singles title on Sunday.
It will be interesting to see how the men's draw shakes out in Nadal's absence. Williams' potential path to another Grand Slam final will also be closely monitored by rabid tennis fans.
Here is all the info you need to catch the draw for the 2014 U.S. Open.
U.S. Open 2014 Draw Info
Date: Thursday, August 21
Time (ET): 12 p.m.
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Nadal's Absence Will Be Felt
When the No. 2 player in the world misses a Grand Slam event, you know there must be a very good reason. Nadal is just 28 years old and has plenty more world-beating to do in his career, so it makes sense that he sacrifices one tournament for the opportunity to truly let his body heal.
"I am sure you understand that it is a very tough moment for me since it is a tournament I love and where I have great memories from fans, the night matches, so many things," Nadal wrote on Facebook, as per the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com).
Nadal defeated Novak Djokovic in four sets in last year's final. His absence is truly unfortunate, as his aggressive play tends to bring the best out of top opponents and regularly elevates the game of tennis to exciting new levels.
Sports Illustrated's tennis Twitter account noted the impact of Nadal's absence on the tournament draw:
Rafael Nadal’s withdrawal from the U.S. Open means Roger Federer will be the No. 2 seed. Boosts Andy Murray to a No. 8 seed as well.— SI Tennis (@SI_Tennis) August 18, 2014
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's been a dark-horse contender at Grand Slam events for years now, but his recent performances suggest that his window of opportunity may be rapidly closing. Tsonga hasn't made it past the round of 16 in his last three Grand Slam events.
However, he did come up with a strong title run in the 2014 Rogers Cup. The hulking Frenchman defeated Andy Murray, Djokovic and Roger Federer on his way to the title, a string of top-tier conquests matched by only one other tennis pro, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is the 2nd player ever to defeat Federer, Djokovic and Murray in the same tournament (other: Rafael Nadal)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 10, 2014
The victory also vaulted Tsonga back into the Top 10 of ATP's men's singles rankings. His serve-and-volley style causes fits for some of tennis' top pros, and the confidence boosting win in Toronto ensures he will be a good bet to play spoiler in New York.
Tsonga's play has been encouraging for the upset-minded tennis fans, but it's far likelier that Djokovic or Federer will come out with a victory. Djokovic looked strong in the 2014 Australian Open, and Federer could truly cap a legendary career with one final victory in a Grand Slam tournament.
ESPN's Matt Wilansky gave his take on Federer's fine summer form:
No one has played better tennis than Federer has this summer. Make that four straight finals, including a Masters 1000 triumph in Cincinnati this past weekend, where the 17-time Slam champ quashed a star-studded lineup, including Andy Murray, Milos Raonic and David Ferrer.
Murray could be the player most desperate for an encouraging tournament run. After winning Wimbledon 2013, the Glasgow native has bowed out at the quarterfinals stage in three of the next four Grand Slams. Once considered one of the dominant "Big Four" players in tennis, Murray has slipped to No. 9 in the world rankings.
Murray won this tournament in 2012. With Nadal out, this could be his big chance to re-establish himself as one of the top threats in the world.