With Novak Djokovic now out of the US Open, is this the year that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal finally square off in New York?
The chances of it happening for the first time certainly increased after Djokovic, the No. 1 player in the world and defending Open champion, retired with a left shoulder injury Sunday night against Stan Wawrinka in the fourth round.
That opens up the top half of the draw for the No. 3 seed Federer, the five-time US Open champ who could have faced Djokovic in the semifinals.
Nadal, the No. 2 seed and three-time Open winner, is the favorite to come through the bottom half of the draw.
“Obviously, Rafa has been playing well and Roger and the other guys,” Djokovic said after bowing out down 6-4, 7-5, 2-1 to Wawrinka and getting booed by fans in the process.
Asked about the crowd’s reaction in Arthur Ashe Stadium when he threw in the towel following a double fault, Djokovic said, “What can I tell you?”
Federer and Nadal have met 40 times in their careers with the Spaniard holding a 24-16 advantage. They have met twice this year in majors, with Nadal destroying Federer in the French Open semifinals en route to his 12th title there, and Federer getting the better of Nadal in four sets in the Wimbledon semis. Federer then could not convert a double-match point in the final against Djokovic and lost in a five-hour, five-set epic.
A year ago, Federer and Nadal could have met in the semifinals in New York but Federer lost to Juan Martin del Potro in the quarterfinals before an injured Nadal retired against del Potro in the semis. Djokovic ended up beating del Potro in the final.
Now here we are again, with Federer and Nadal on opposite sides of the draw — and Djokovic out. The only place they could meet would be in the final on Sunday.
Nadal, 33, was asked on ESPN before the Djokovic match what it would mean to finally face Federer, 38, in New York.
“Well, for me it will mean a lot today because that means that I’m going to be in the final,” he said with a laugh.
On the top half of the draw, Federer will next face unseeded Grigor Dimitrov in the quarterfinals on Tuesday. Federer is 7-0 against the man they call “Baby Fed.”
“This is the big quarters for him, obviously with an opportunity against me,” Federer said after destroying No. 15 David Goffin in straight sets on Sunday. “I’m aware of the fact it’s a big match for him.”
“Yeah, I’ve done well against him in the past. But a new match, new Grigor, new me again.”
Wawrinka, not Djokovic, will face No. 5 Daniil Medvedev in the other quarterfinal on the top half of the draw. The two have never met. Wawrinka owns three Grand Slam titles while Medvedev is into his first major quarterfinal.
“He’s been playing amazing tennis, making final after final, winning Cincinnati, winning here a lot,” said Wawrinka, the 2016 Open champ. “It’s going to be an interesting match to play against him. I’m looking forward to it. It’s the quarterfinal. It’s going to be, for sure, a great level. I’m excited to play.”
Federer and Nadal remain alive to add to their historic Grand Slam totals. Federer is the all-time men’s leader at 20, with Nadal in second at 18. If the stars align for tennis fans worldwide and New Yorkers in particular, they could finally meet for the title.
Djokovic, winner of four of the last five majors, will have to watch the rest of the tournament unfold without him.
“Look, it’s no secret that I have of course desire and a goal to reach the most slams, you know, and reach Roger’s record,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s a long road ahead hopefully for me. I hope I can play for many more years. I’m planning to. I mean, I don’t see an end behind the corner at all.”
“Now it’s a matter of keeping my body and mind in shape and trying to still peak at these kinds of events that are majors and that are the most significant in our sport.”