The withdrawal of Rafael Nadal from the the U.S Open Series presents Roger Federer with a chance to close the gap on the No.2 spot in the ATP rankings, a spot he has held for 116 weeks throughout his career. Federer was last there on May 6th 2013, but by the end of the season was down to No.7. This season he has already climbed up from No.8 in January to his current ATP ranking of No.3.
Federer has climbed back up the rankings with titles in Dubai and Halle, ATP 1000 finals in Indian Wells and Monte Carlo, and a runner-up finish at Wimbledon. Fine achievements for a 33 year old in the brutal world of 21st Century tennis. But for someone who has spent 418 weeks of their career ranked in the top 2 of the ATP rankings, life has been, tennis wise, even finer. Now, with Rafael Nadal’s withdrawal from the U.S Open series, Federer’s tennis life may be so fine again in the not-too-distant future.
Nadal, the defending champion at both ATP 1000 events in Toronto and Cincinnati, will lose 2000 ATP ranking points as a result of his withdrawals, leaving him with 10670 points. Federer has 6070 points in third place but only has 180 points to defend this U.S Open Series. Last year he only competed in Cincinnati, and got as far as the quarter-finals where he was defeated in a close three setter by his nemesis Nadal.
With Nadal, who leads him 23-10 in their career head to head, and has a 9-6 edge on hard courts, out of the way this U.S Open Series, Federer’s chances of going deeper in the draws and picking up more points have increased dramatically, and, considering his form this year and his overall record on U.S hard courts, he should surpass the 180 points he gained last season.
Federer’s first chance to do so comes next week in Toronto where the Swiss is the second seed. The draw does not pose any problems on paper early on. Federer has an 18-0 head to head over projected last sixteen and quarter-final opponents Marin Cilic and David Ferrer. Tomas Berdych, though, could be quite a handful in the semis- the Czech has five wins over Federer on hard courts.
However, in their encounter this season in Dubai, Federer got the better of Berdych after losing the first set and has been in the better form of the two since then. If Federer gets past Berdych, he would face Djokovic, who he has beaten twice this season and with their other two 2013 matches going the distance, that contest could go either way. If it goes the way of the Swiss, the 1000 ranking points he would earn for winning would significantly reduce the distance between him and Nadal in the ATP rankings.
Next up is Cincinnati, one of Federer’s best events, and a title he has won 6 times. Federer’s serve and aggressive game thrive on the fast courts there, arguably the quickest on the tennis tour, and with Federer’s game even more aggressive this year thanks to the input of Stefan Edberg, he would be one of the favorites to take the trophy and the 1000 points.
After that, comes the big one, the U.S Open, This year Nadal has 2000 points to defend in New York, while Federer, who was sensationally knocked out by Tommy Robredo last season, has only 180 points. This year, though, the Robredos of the tour will not want to see Federer in their eighth of the draw. Federer has recovered from the back injury and racket issues that hindered him in 2013, and it would be a surprise to see him fall anywhere before the last four.
Nadal, meanwhile, has said he hopes to compete in N.Y.C, but how effectively he can do so having had no U.S Summer hard court practice is questionable, especially considering his U.S Open record. While the Spaniard is a two-time champion at Flushing Meadows, Nadal has been upset at the US Open in the past by Youzhny and Ferrer, and suffered one of his biggest defeats in the later stages of slams on Arthur Ashe, winning only 6 games in his 2009 semi-final versus Del Potro.
However, Nadal is Nadal and has stunned the tennis world time and time again with his results post-injury. Reaching the last four of the U.S Open this Summer would become just another example of his great comebacks. Such a comeback this year in the form of a run to the last four of the Open could, if the draw permits, climax in a meeting with Federer, and while Nadal would hold on to the No.2 ranking whatever the result, his cushion would be nowhere near as comfortable as it is right now, and the result could have a decisive impact on the year end ATP rankings.
That scenario would make the match one of the most fascinating in their long rivalry, if not the most, considering that Federer and Nadal have never met at Flushing Meadows. Should they do so this season, with the stakes so high, the tennis world would have a first rate contest to potentially decide 2014’s second best player in the world.
Commentary by Christian Deverille