Though the 2017 tennis season has been dominated by older veterans, the aging bodies of the Big Four kept them away from the championship trophies in the two biggest lead-up tournaments to the US Open: the Canada Masters in Montreal and Cincinnati Masters in southern Ohio. Young players pounced on these opportunities, claiming major victories for themselves in these two pivotal tournaments.
When the draw was finalized in Montreal, it was already filled with holes. Novak Djokovic, then the defending champion, called off the rest of his season after Wimbledon due to elbow injury. Then-World Number One Andy Murray also withdrew, due to his own hip injury. Additionally, Stan Wawrinka, who recently reached the finals of the French Open, was also absent from the tournament, as he too ended his season early due to a knee injury.
Thus, the clear favorites for the title were the two players who have dominated the past decade of tennis, but especially the past year: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. In addition to seeking another title at the Canada Masters, Nadal also had the opportunity to regain the world’s top ranking if he reached the semifinals of the tournament. However, the tournament’s top seed suffered an early exit in the third round at the hands of hometown wildcard Denis Shapovalov, who went on to make his own fairy-tale run to the semifinals.
Nadal’s departure left Federer as the sole favorite for the title, as the Swiss maestro has played superb tennis all season. Federer fought his way to the championship match, where he faced off against German youngster Alexander Zverev. Zverev, who is amidst a breakthrough year, handily defeated the heavily favored Swiss champion in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4, to win his second Masters 1000 title of the year.
Though Nadal did not reclaim the top ranking in Canada, he was ensured the world’s highest spot before play even began in Cincinnati due to the continued absence of Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka, as well as the withdrawal of Federer from the tournament due to back injury. A number of others joined the older champions in pulling out of Cincinnati, including Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori. This left Nadal as the sole member of the Big Four and as the favorite to win the tournament. However, the Spanish champion could not capitalize on the absence of his peers; it was again younger players who would seize the day.
Nadal fell to swaggering Australian powerhouse Nick Kyrgios in the quarterfinals in the second match of a doubleheader. Both Nadal and Kyrgios were forced to play two matches in a single day, as their third-round matches were rained out and then moved to the following day. In his third round match against the towering Croat Ivo Karlovic, Kyrgios fell behind early, but came back in the second and third set to play lights-out tennis. He replicated this play in his night match against Nadal, defeating the top seed in straight sets, 6-2, 7-5. In the semifinals, Kyrgios edged out another Spanish veteran in David Ferrer, 7-6, 7-6, to face Grigor Dimitrov in the final, who also won his semifinal match 7-6, 7-6, against hometown favorite John Isner. In the final, Dimitrov, long considered an up-and-comer who has never quite reached his full potential, defeated Kyrgios 6-3, 7-5 to claim the title.
Though Nadal fell short in both of these significant tournaments and failed to pounce on some rare opportunities, he did return to World Number One status through his efforts over the past two weeks. This is a special milestone for Nadal, who last held the world’s top ranking over three years ago in June 2014, as his injury struggles throughout 2015 and 2016 left him doubting whether he would ever return to his old form.