The apparent decline of Roger Federer due to a persistant knee injury has cast a cloud of uncertainty over his participation in the upcoming hard court season. This is a monumental blow for him, and indeed his fans as well (which encompasses 95% of the tennis audience, lets be honest). Father time spares no man or woman, and unfortunately for Federer, he seems to be no different. Fitness concerns have been taking a toll on his pursuit to capture one more Grand Slam title.
Only three or four years ago, it was not easy to dismiss Federer’s prospects at a Slam. But one of the three most successful men at the Arthur Ashe Stadium now has little more than an outside chance of leaving Pete Sampras and Jimmy Connors behind to become the sole owner of the record for most US Open titles in the Open Era (they have all won five). Federer has a daunting task ahead if he is to add one more to the tally of 20 slams. His quarterfinal exit at Wimbledon may be the last second week match he ever plays at a Slam.
Will Djokovic or Nadal Get To The 21st Grand Slam First?
With Federer being the first to 21 being almost ruled out – who will take the US Open crown in 2021? For the first time ever, the “Big 3” are tied at 20 slams apiece. This also marks the first time since 1978 that three or more men are tied for the most Slam titles. The last time this happened Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, and John Newcombe were all tied at five Slams apiece, the most (Open Era Major winners) at the time.
Now, with Nadal and Djokovic still at the peak of their careers, it is not easy to imagine one of the younger players denying them a few more Majors. The two great athletes have such a huge appetite for winning in the longer version of the sport. Despite the fact that several “NextGen” players are in commanding form and coming off impressive performances through the first half of 2021, the two stalwarts of the sport, Rafael Nadal and Novak Dokovic, still remain overwhelming favorites to walk away with the US Open and break the three-way tie in so doing. Unlike the eldest of the three, the Spaniard and the Serb still have some years of elite tennis left between them, before time eventually runs out on them too.
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal
Over the years, Nadal has proved that he is an exceptional fighter on and off the court. He has fought back from the throes of injury six times over a long career. Nadal has held a Top 10 ATP ranking for 900 weeks and counting-a record in the Open era–a supreme testament to that. He is the finest embodiment of skill, consistency, and athleticism. Together with eventual champion Novak Djokovic, Nadal made the recent French Open semifinal an immortal classic.
The Spaniard produced tennis of the highest quality along with the World #1. This is where Djokovic’s unmatched mental strength sets him apart from others. He seems to command an unprecedented level of mental adaptability. The Spaniard, though, has a long and fruitful affair with New York, and is always a fan favorite. His withdrawal from the last edition was unfortunate, but not something that he could have helped in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and a very short transition to the rescheduled French Open.
Who Will Win?
Following tremendous success this year, Djokovic is better favored coming into the hard-court season. But if Nadal can put his recent losses and injury behind, he can level with Federer on five US Opens. On the other hand, Djokovic has been runner-up five times at the US Open. But he has deservedly freed himself of the “losing finalist” tag long ago. Like at the French Open, Djokovic remains Nadal’s worst impediment to another Slam title.Will it be “21 in ’21”? Or are we to wait for the Australian Open to see one of the three men take the lead? Will either Nadal or Djokovic claim their 21st Slam? Or will either of the in-form Daniil Medvedev or Stefanos Tsitsipas claim their first grand slam at Flushing Meadows? Nadal’s run in Cincinnati next month might give a few answers as we await a historic US Open in September.