By Julien Pretot
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A rather disappointing men’s U.S. Open tournament highlighted the absence of several top players on the tour, including past champions Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka.
Briton Murray, the 2012 Flushing Meadows champion, pulled out of the tournament days before it started, leaving a big hole in the bottom half of the draw.
As a result, South African Kevin Anderson made his way to the final but he was never in contention against world number one Rafa Nadal, who clinched his 16th grand slam title.
“First we need to realize how extremely lucky we’ve been to have these (top) players almost always playing the majors and now we realize how important it is for grand slams to have everybody healthy,” former world number one Mats Wilander, at the U.S. Open as an analyst for Eurosport, told Reuters.
“And they should get together with the ATP and the ITF (International Tennis Federation) to try and figure out a schedule where players can stay healthy throughout the year.”
Murray pulled out because of a hip injury and Swiss Wawrinka and Serbia’s Djokovic have ended their seasons altogether because of injuries. The trio had had won four of the six previous men’s singles titles in New York.
“The best players in the world need to be playing the best tournaments, because it makes the level higher and this year with five out of the (usual) top 10 out of the tournament, you could think you were going to feel the effect,” said Wilander.
“Often you don’t feel a couple of players missing out but here it was noticeable.”
On his way to the final, Nadal did not face a player ranked in the world’s top 20 and was never in danger against Anderson, a player he had beaten in all of their four matches.
Japan’s Kei Nishikori and Canadian Milos Raonic also missed the tournament through injury while Roger Federer, whose preparations were troubled by a back injury, admitted he was not ready enough to be a credible title contender.
Looking ahead, however, Wilander believes that 2018 will be an interesting year.
“We’re going to have three, five players very hungry so I would think that it will be extremely interesting to see,” the Swede, the 1988 U.S. Open champion, said.
The women’s draw provided more thrills, with Maria Sharapova beating world number two Simona Halep on her return to the grand slam scene after a doping ban and new faces emerging.
“It was a good tournament, better than the men’s. Exciting, more good matches and a lot of good stories,” said Wilander.
“Four Americans in the semis, that’s great for women’s tennis because in America women’s tennis has always been at a high level and they need to keep it up there.”
It was the first time four American women had reached in the last four at the U.S. Open since 1981.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris)