Tennis

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal absence means ‘anyone can beat anyone’ at US Open

Roger Federer to miss US Open and undergo knee surgery

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Frances Tiafoe has lifted the lid on why he believes the US Open has been full of long, five-set matches and gruelling comebacks this year, and it has something to do with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. With a number of young players and qualifiers through to the second week on the men’s and women’s side of the draw, the world No 50 believes everyone is “trying extra hard” in the absence of some of the top players.

Federer had played just five tournaments this season after taking 2020 off to undergo two knee surgeries, and after skipping the US Open warm-up tournaments he announced he would be out for “many months” to have a third surgery.

Meanwhile, Nadal pulled out of Wimbledon and the Olympics, revealing he had aggravated a foot injury during his shock semi-final defeat at Roland Garros, and was set to make his comeback in the North American hard court swins but played just two matches before shutting his season down.

The 35-year-old played the ATP 500 in Washington for the first time in his career, then travelled to Canada with the intention of playing in the Toronto Masters but withdrew ahead of his opening match and flew home to consult with his personal doctor before announcing he would not be playing the US Open and was taking the rest of 2021 to recover.

It leaves Novak Djokovic as the only Big Three member in the draw, with extra pressure on his shoulders this year as he attempts to win the Calendar Grand Slam and a record 21st Major.

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The women’s draw is also missing some of its biggest names in Serena and Venus Williams, with Serena pulling out ahead of the tournament after an injury she picked up at Wimbledon failed to heal in time, and Venus cited a leg injury.

While many worried that the US Open may be uneventful in the absence of the great champions, it has arguably been one of the most exciting first weeks of a Grand Slam in some time with new, young stars announcing themselves on the big stage and multiple matches going the distance.

Carlos Alcaraz is among the list of 18-year-olds impressing in Flushing Meadows, having made it to his maiden Slam quaterfinal with stunning five-set victories over third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and German qualifier Peter Gojowczyk.

Britain’s Emma Raducanu another name on that list, with the world No 150 securing a spot in the fourth round as a qualifier after wins over the likes of world No 49 Zhang Shuai and world No 41 Sara Sorribes Tormo.

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Meanwhile, world No 73 Leylah Fernandez also made the last-eight of a Major for the first time, having back from a set down to beat Grand Slam champions Naomi Osaka and Angie Kerber in back-to-back rounds.

Botic van de Zandschulp is another newer name for fans in New York, with the 117th-ranked qualifier beating eighth seed Casper Ruud in four sets and Diego Schwartzman in five to book a space in the quarterfinals.

With so many new faces coming through against top opponents and more than 30 five-set matches on the men’s side so far, close to a record, Frances Tiafoe was asked if he thought there was a reason for the ‘chaos’ this year.

“I mean, I think there is numerous reasons. You don’t have Roger, Rafa. Guys are hungry, guys are like, ‘The F***ing Open, I got to f***ing push.’ So I think that has definitely a part to play in it,” he said after his four-set loss to Felix Auger-Aliassime.

“Level of tennis is high. Anyone can beat anyone. Look, I’m 50 in the world. I’m beating all these kind of guys. You have qualifiers in the round of 16, like tennis, like there is no bumps. Everyone’s good. Like if you don’t show up to play, you can lose to anyone.”

Praising the quality of tennis being produced by players across the draw, the world No 50 said he believed the tight matches and upset wins in the men’s draw were a result of Federer and Nadal’s absence.

The American continued: “I mean, I definitely think guys are trying extra hard, because there is no Roger, Rafa. I truly believe that.

“I see guys foaming in the mouth, pretty funny to watch, I’m in the locker room cracking up.

“You have Seppi like 37 playing 15-13 in the fifth. What’s that about? Crazy. His 19th US Open, he’s putting his heart on the line. He’s probably not doing that if he plays Rafa the second round, probably, like, ‘I’m done.’ It’s unreal.”

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