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Men's draw at US Open is decimation row

Helene Elliott, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Tennis

NEW YORK -- One player's misfortune can be another's happy opportunity. With injuries forcing five of the top 11 ranked men's players out of the U.S. Open, there will be many chances for up-and-comers to make impressions when tennis' noisiest and brashest Grand Slam begins here on Monday.

But anyone with title aspirations likely will have to get past No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal or No. 3 Roger Federer, who have monopolized the first three Grand Slam championships this year after overcoming their own injury woes. Nadal, 31, won his 10th French Open title and recently regained the world No. 1 ranking; Federer, 36, didn't play in New York last year because of a left knee injury and has had a sore back, but he won the Australian and Wimbledon titles and ranks No. 3 in the world.

"When somebody is injured, somebody else wins. We saw that last year, you know, when Rafa and me weren't around, somebody else stepped up," Federer, who will open on Tuesday against American Frances Tiafoe, said last week. "Always it seems somebody takes advantage of the fact, and that some players are not around. Yeah, then you have got to be in the right place at the right time and be healthy and fresh and all that."

No. 2 seed Andy Murray, who has struggled with a hip injury since the French Open, pulled out Saturday. He joined 2016 U.S. Open champion Stan Wawrinka (wrist surgery) and 2016 runner-up Novak Djokovic (elbow), as well as Kei Nishikori (wrist) and Milos Raonic (wrist).

"Don't forget that we are not 21 anymore. That's something that can happen," Nadal said of the swath of injuries. "Stan is 32, you know, I think. I am 31 and a half almost. Novak is 30. Andy is 30. Yeah, we are not that young anymore, so it's normal that we had some things."

Federer and Nadal, incidentally, are on the same side of the draw and could potentially meet in the semifinals. Remarkably, they've never faced each other in the U.S. Open.

No. 4 Alexander Zverev of Germany, who defeated Federer in the Rogers Cup tournament in Montreal two weeks ago, and No. 7 Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, who won at Cincinnati last week, are expected to vie for the spotlight here. Mercurial No. 14 Nick Kyrgios of Australia, who defeated Nadal en route to the Cincinnati hard-court final, has the talent to thrive but has lacked the discipline to stay on track.

The most significant absence on the women's side will be six-time U.S. Open champion and 23-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams, who is awaiting the birth of her first child. In addition, two-time Grand Slam winner and two-time U.S. Open finalist Victoria Azarenka is embroiled in custody dispute and has said she's unwilling to leave her young son behind in California, and 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur withdrew because of a fractured right hand.

Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, ranked No. 1 in the world and seeded No. 1, has never won a Grand Slam but was the runner-up to Angelique Kerber here last year. No. 2 Simona Halep of Romania has reached at least the quarterfinals of her last 10 tournaments but couldn't seize the moment on three occasions this year when she needed one win to earn the No. 1 world ranking. Head games overpowered her tennis game, leading her to decide she must ignore the rankings and simply play. She's one of eight women who could hold the No. 1 spot after the Open.

"I'm not thinking anymore. It was enough. I thought about it too much, I think, and maybe the pressure came in important moments, so now is gone," she said. "Everyone can take the No. 1, and if it's gonna happen, I will deserve it. If not, no, we will see."

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