These two truths are masked as rhetorical questions regarding a U.S. Open in which five of the top 11 men’s players — including two of the Big Four — were absent from the draw because of physical ailments and four of the top 10 seeds were gone by the tournament’s fifth day:
If 36-year-old Roger Federer could not win under these circumstances, will he ever again win the sixth U.S. championship that has eluded him since he unaccountably dropped a five-set final to his Queens nemesis, Juan Martin del Potro, in 2009?
And if only one American man could make it as far as the quarters — that being Sam Querrey, who fell to finalist Kevin Anderson — in a draw that was not only decimated by injury but opened wide through early upsets, when will the Yankee men catch up to the women?
It may have been true that no American woman other than Venus or Serena Williams had won a Grand Slam tournament since Jennifer Capriati had taken the Australian Open in 2002, but the fact is no American man — without an exception carved out for a particular family — has won a major since Andy Roddick captured the U.S. Open in 2003.
Roddick, in fact, stands as the last American man to reach the Open semifinal, doing so in 2006. This year represented a golden opportunity for the Red, White and Blue. But it was an opportunity frittered away. Tenth-seed John Isner went down in the third round. Thirteenth seed Jack Sock tumbled in the first round. Steve Johnson and Jared Donaldson each went down in the second round.
This tournament on the men’s side was largely one that got away. Diminished both because of the ailments that sidelined Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray (plus popular reigning champion Stan Wawrinka) and the wonky draw that followed Murray’s withdrawal two days before the tournament commenced, it caught up to the event for the men’s semifinal Friday.
The opening semi, in which Anderson took out Pablo Carreno Busta in four sets had the feel of a prelim. And, no disrespect to either the great Rafael Nadal or the estimable Juan Martin del Potro, even that second semifinal match won easily by Nadal in four (4-6, 6-0, 6-3, 6-2), seemed anticlimactic.
(An aside: it is, of course, essentially always true that when one suggests, “No disrespect intended,” there is, in fact, a measure of disrespect intended.)
It was, though, anticlimactic because the anticipated, dream matchup between Nadal and Federer that would have been their first ever at the U.S. Open failed to materialize when del Potro put the kibosh on the Swiss maestro in their quarterfinal match Wednesday.
If Nadal defeats Anderson in Sunday’s final, he will have 16 Grand Slam championships, just three fewer than Federer. With both a five-year age-advantage and the threat/promise of adding multiple victories to the 10 he already owns at Roland Garros, Nadal may well eclipse Federer’s all-time mark.
But the Spaniard does not light up the marquee the way that Federer does. New York respects him — who wouldn’t — but New York is not in love with him. That affection is reserved for Federer. And when a vulnerable Federer went down to del Potro, the air went of the men’s balloon.
All of the glamour on the men’s side was invested in the anticipated Federer-Nadal matchup. Rising star Alexander Zverev was bounced in the second round on the third day. Theatrical attractions Nick Kyrgios and Gael Monfils were both gone by the sixth day. The emerging Denis Shapovalov generated early buzz, but went down to Busta in the fourth round.
Still, there was going to be Federer-Nadal, even if a round too soon.
It was manifest destiny.
Everyone anticipated it.
Everyone looked forward to it.
Well, almost everyone.
“I wasn’t,” Federer said after his defeat. “You were.”
Anderson, the world No. 32 who is the lowest ranked U.S. Open finalist since the inception of the ATP rankings in 1973, earned the right to face Nadal on Sunday. Busta, the 12-seed, earned his way to the semis even as he did not face a top-30 player in any of the first five rounds.
No Djokovic. No Murray. No Wawrinka.
No American who made a name for himself or made enough noise to fill in the blanks.
The 2017 U.S. Open.
Boom for the women.
Bust for the men.