NEW YORK (Reuters) - The absence of several top players might be a concern for the U.S. Open organizers but it gives a unique chance for some new faces of the sport to prove their worth, according to former world number one Mats Wilander.
The Arthur Ashe stadium was almost empty when pre-tournament favorite Garbine Muguruza opened her campaign in round one on Monday, and former men’s champion Marin Cilic had only a few more spectators to entertain in the following match.
“The first impression of the crowd was a bit of a ‘wow, there’s only a 1,000 people watching Muguruza on the opening day of the U.S. Open’,” Wilander, who is at Flushing Meadows as a pundit for Eurosport, told Reuters on Monday.
“You have Muguruza, the Wimbledon champion and then you have Cilic, former champion; you just hope that the lack of top 10 players on the men’s side and the lack of Serena (Williams) in the women’s draw won’t have a serious impact on the tournament.”
The men’s draw is without reigning champion Stan Wawrinka, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, while Williams, who is expecting a child, is also missing out.
This could, however, be a blessing in disguise for the sport, said the Swede.
“There are a lot of players who can win this tournament. (Roger) Federer and (Rafa) Nadal are the obvious favorites but they have not won the U.S. Open in a long time,” he said.
“I don’t really like to pick the favorites at the beginning of the tournament but if you have to pick one it’s Nadal, and possibly Federer. Roger we don’t know what his back is like. In Montreal he was injured, clearly.”
Nadal and Federer are on a semi-final collision course and along with the absence of the big names, that clears a path for lesser talents or young guns like fourth seed Alexander Zverev.
“Zverev is on the better half of the draw and he’s the third favorite,” said Wilander.
“I’m disappointed that we don’t have all the players playing but the best thing about them missing is that we can have new faces.
“For tennis, it’s good in a way. You’re going to have these new faces coming up involuntarily because somebody has to make the quarter-finals and it’s gonna be a lot of new faces and that’s what every sport always needs,” he explained.
“Especially with the likes of Federer and Nadal in your sport, you need new faces to kick them out at some point. At some point we want them to be beaten and for a guy like Zverev it’s important to beat them while they’re still playing. Very important.”
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Nick Mulvenney