It is no secret that tennis is a gladiator’s game in this day and age, a trend which can be chalked up to the tremendous advances made in racket and string technology in addition to the predominance of slower and higher bouncing court surfaces on the ATP tour.
All this has led to a dire situation on the eve of the US Open, which stems from the news that 5 of the top 11 in the rankings will not play the fourth and final Grand Slam of the year. What follows is a list of the biggest names that will be missing from the action in New York:
Novak Djokovic: As Tennis-Pulse reported a month ago, Djokovic called a premature end his season because of a persistently problematic bone bruise in his right elbow. He has begun a process of thorough rehabilitation to heal the injury and will no doubt value the time spent away from the court with his family. Djokovic retired while trailing by a set and a break in his Wimbledon quarter-final clash against Tomáš Berdych, which was the last time he was spotted on a match court.
Stanislas Wawrinka: At Wimbledon, initial indications of Wawrinka’s knee problem emerged in the midst of his shocking first-round loss to unseeded Russian Daniil Medvedev. Unfortunately for the 2016 US Open winner, it is not only his involvement at Wimbledon that ended abruptly. Wawrinka will not play another match this year but is set to return in 2018 after successfully going under the knife twelve days ago.
Kei Nishikori: Kei Nishikori’s latest injury is a torn tendon in his right wrist that he sustained during a practice session at the Western & Southern Open. The Japanese has confirmed that he is out for the rest of the season; like Djokovic, he took the safe route and opted out of surgery. Nishikori is currently ranked 10th in the world but will drop far below that after the US Open, where he made the semis last year.
Milos Raonic: The Canadian No.1 will skip the US Open this year, describing himself as “crushed to miss this event.” Altogether, Raonic seems optimistic that he will be able to compete at the remaining tournaments on his 2017 schedule, assuming the recovery from surgery to his left wrist goes as planned.
Andy Murray: In the wake of a failed Wimbledon title defense and the loss of the world number one ranking, Andy Murray decided that he is in no shape to attempt winning the US Open. As he so bluntly put it, “(the hip) is too sore for me to win the tournament and ultimately that’s what I was here to try and do.” The hip has been the nexus of Murray’s fitness troubles since late June, though he soldiered on long enough to play his way into the last eight of Wimbledon in July. Murray, by all accounts, would be disappointed to end his 2017 season forthwith, but has acknowledged that surgery is probably the best option for his long-term health. He is prepared to heed the advice of medical specialists on how best to alleviate his chronic hip pain for good and will announce his plans for the rest of the year in the coming days.
Each of these announcements hit the pre-tournament build up like a bullet to the chest, with Murray’s last-minute withdrawal acting as a particularly disruptive influence on the draw. Most of the bleeding will come from the bottom half, an imbalance that could’ve been avoided if the 30-year-old Scot had pulled out before the draw was generated on Friday. Federer and Nadal would’ve landed on opposite halves of the draw, while now they are on a collision course to meet in the semi-finals instead.
In response to the injury epidemic that has affected the tour this year, the ATP needs to take the long view and come up with an actionable strategy to protect the health of players at all levels of the sport. The US Open is the second consecutive major to be heavily affected by an outbreak of injuries- there were 10 retirements during the Wimbledon men’s singles event alone. Recently, Tennis-Pulse offered an opinion about what can be done to deter players from abusing the lax rules that govern mid-match retirements.
This discussion, however, only provides a surface view of the real problem, i.e. what is causing such a large number of players to enter (or withdraw before) Grand Slam tournaments injured in the first place. Undeniably, modern baseline tennis takes a heavy toll on the human body; a heavier one still, it seems, will be visited upon the well-being of tennis at large.
From Monday onward, stay glued to Tennis-Pulse.com for point-by-point coverage of the 2017 US Open and extensive analysis of the tournament’s biggest matches.