As the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center enters the final year of its complete transformation, this year’s U.S. Open field has been significantly transformed, and not by design.
Stan Wawrinka, the defending men’s champion, announced this week that he is taking the rest of the season off to rest his ailing left knee and will miss the Open, which starts Aug. 28.
The man he beat in last year’s final, Novak Djokovic, said after Wimbledon he won’t play the rest of the year to heal his aching right elbow.
Andy Murray was beaten in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon by Sam Querrey, hobbling on a bad right hip. The world’s No. 1 has not played since and has withdrawn from the Rogers Cup in Montreal this coming week, a traditional start to the North American hardcourt season leading to the Open.
Serena Williams, the epicenter of excitement in women’s tennis since the turn of the century, is pregnant — she might well deliver during the Open — and stopped playing this season after winning the Australian Open.
Maria Sharapova, who was forced to miss the Open last year because of a drug suspension, would be eligible this year. But her situation is heavily clouded. First, she withdrew from a tournament last week with a left arm problem, the second time she withdrew from a tournament with injury this season after returning from the 15-month ban.
Second, because her ranking fell so low during the suspension, she would need a wild card to get into the tournament and it is not publicly known at this point whether she has asked for one.
No past champion of the Open has ever been denied a wild card. Martina Hingis, Lleyton Hewitt, Juan Martin del Potro required wild cards coming off injury-impacted seasons. Kim Clijsters required a wild card for the 2009 Open in her return to tennis after two seasons off to become a mother. And she won it.
While Angelique Kerber, the defending women’s champion, is sure to be in the field, it’s uncertain whether she will show up with a game. She hasn’t won a tournament since she beat Karolina Pliskova in the final of the Open last year. Raise your hand if you know that Pliskova is currently the No. 1 ranked women’s player, and one who has yet to win a Slam.
The Open gets a huge boost to its charisma quotient with the return of the ageless and amazing Roger Federer. Like Wawrinka, Federer skipped the U.S. Open in 2016 and the remainder of the season to rest his surgically-repaired right knee.
And what a return he has made this season, winning the Australian and Wimbledon Grand Slam titles, plus top-tier tournaments at Indian Wells and Miami and a grass court event in Germany. Federer, who turns 36 on Tuesday, and a healthy Rafal Nadal will be playing in Montreal this week. Nadal has a chance to take over the No. 1 ranking.
Federer and Nadal bring a certain comfort level to the Open’s competitive landscape this year, but it remains to be seen who fills the large holes in the men’s and women’s draws.