The U.S. Open men’s field became even more depleted Wednesday with the injury withdrawal of Milos Raonic, but that makes the fortnight more intriguing, according to tennis maven John McEnroe.
Defending Open champion Stan Wawrinka (knee), Novak Djokovic (elbow) and 2015 Open finalist Kei Nishikori (wrist) are out for the year. Andy Murray (hip) has missed the Open tune-ups with a hip ailment, but supposedly will make an attempt to play at Flushing Meadows, when the Open begins Monday.
It’s setting up for the grand possibility Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who was announced Thursday as the No. 1 seed, finally will clash at the Open after all these years. And maybe a few other surprises.
“That situation with the men gives the opportunity to do something historic,’’ McEnroe told The Post after holding tryouts in Harlem for his SPORTIME scholarship program. “The way Roger’s played, which is beyond amazing, winning two [Grand] Slams this year, and Nadal, now No. 1 after a lot of us thought they were washed up or certainly headed in the wrong direction. But it’s hard not to pick Roger right now.”
Andy Murray is seeded second, with Federer third. On the women’s side, Karolina Pliskova is the top seed for the first time in any Grand Slam tournament.
McEnroe said this Open also will present the maligned American men’s contingent — whether Sam Querrey (seeded 17), Jack Sock (13), John Isner (10) or even youngster Frances Tiafoe — with a puncher’s chance. The last American to win the Open — or any Grand Slam event — was Andy Roddick in 2003.
“The Americans of course are struggling … and now there’s more opportunity to win this,’’ McEnroe said. “And it’s an opportunity for guys we’ve been waiting for to step forward and win something — whether it’s [Grigor] Dimitrov, [Dominic] Thiem or Alexander Zverev, who I think will be a No. 1. So even though we’ve lost some guys, it has a chance to be quite exciting this year.’’
McEnroe won’t go out on a limb to predict which American he touts with the best chance at a big run.
“I really would put a virtual tie for all three: Sock, Querrey and Isner,’’ McEnroe said. “I don’t see any of them winning it. I see all of them being dangerous. Obviously John, with the serve, none of the top guys want to play him.’’
McEnroe noted, however, Sock and Querrey, looked weary during the Open tune-ups.
“Sam, he looks like to be the most consistent [but] he looked a little bit fatigued [at last week’s Western & Southern Open],’’ McEnroe said.
As for the injury epidemic, some tennis insiders believe players are taking a page from Federer’s book, willing to forgo Grand Slams for the long-term good.
Raonic, ranked 11th, sent Federer into his long hiatus when he whipped him in the 2016 Wimbledon semifinals. On social media, Raonic explained his withdrawal: “I have too much respect for the U.S. Open and my fellow competitors to take a spot in the draw when I know I cannot give full effort due to this injury.”
McEnroe said the tennis season needs to be shortened even more because hardcourts “beat you up more.’’
“They would be better served to continue to look at that,’’ he said. “Certainly the wear and tear is there, because the ball is being hit harder so you have to react quicker. That’s part of why you’re seeing a lot of injuries.”
Promoting the new three-day Laver Cup, set for September, Federer was asked if tennis really needed another event, given the injury spate.
“We’ve seen some big ones,’’ Federer said. “We have to look ourselves in the mirror and say what’s enough, what’s too much. It’s a fine line.”
McEnroe noted when he was Federer’s age, 36, he was two years retired.
“The training and recovery is better than ever,’’ McEnroe said. “Not too many lasted as long as I did.’’
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