There will be no Rafanole this year at the US Open, which gets underway Saturday with “Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day” at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow, Queens, N.Y.
The big news is that defending champ Rafael Nadal has pulled out due to the wrist injury that kept him out of the early portion of the hard-court season. There appears to be a pattern here: Rafa plays lights out to ace the clay-court season, peaks at the French Open, cries when they hand him the umpteenth trophy at Roland Garros in Paris, flames out at Wimbledon, gets injured, takes some time off and starts the whole cycle again.
This would seem to favor Novak Djokovic, but wait. After a trifecta of Ws (Wimby championship, world No. 1 ranking and wedding to longtime love Jelena Ristic), Nole burned out of tournaments at Toronto and Cincinnati. The New York Times, which seems to have no enthusiasm for Nole, noted that he’s been “fending off charges” that he hasn’t been practicing much since the wedding. Fending off charges? Really? Is he a criminal? What’s next, blame the wife? (I hate when they blame the wife, like when Robin Williams died, and the misogynists in the blogosphere accused his ex-wives of bleeding him so he couldn’t do the artsy projects he wanted to do. Please.)
This is all on Nole, who’s always been streaky in a sport of streakiness. If it were me, I’d be going great guns to take advantage of Rafa’s absence and put some distance between us in the rankings. But that’s me, and I’ve never had a child as he and the missus will in October.
With Andy Murray still on the comeback trail after a back injury aborted his US Open bid last year (and resulted in surgery), the Big Four are in disarray. Indeed they are at the moment the Big Two – Nole and Roger Federer, who was a finalist in Toronto and won the Cincy tourney.
Given the absolutely superb summer we are having in New York – warm but not hot and low humidity – you just know that the Federinas are smacking their lips in anticipation of Feddy Bear, who plays better when it’s not so hot, winning his 18th Slam. Honestly, it’s like the Stuart Restoration, everyone waiting for the return of the king, Roger the Supercilious. You have to hand it to the guy, though: At 33rd, he’s back at No. 3, although that may say more about the three guys he’s been playing since they were teenagers – Rafa, Nole and Andy – than it says about him.
But if I were the Federinas, I wouldn’t stage a coronation just yet. Never count Nole out. He took time off after losing the French Open, played mediocre tennis for much of Wimbledon and still managed to win. Plus, there’s a bunch of young guns who’ve played well this summer and will have something to say about the course of the Open.
They don’t have the magic of Rafanole, but then they don’t have the ball-bouncing, water-bottle-lining-up, whining, umpire-staring neuroticism that also makes Rafanole so anxiety-inducing either. Rafanole is like listening to Callas or rooting for the Yankees – thrilling but you never know what you’re going to get.
Perhaps it’s just as well there is no Rafanole this summer. My nerves could use a vacation.