Top player Novak Djokovic arrived to New York looking to close in on the gap between himself and Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on the all-time Grand Slam (Majors) list. Djokovic ranks third on the all-time behind Nadal's 19 titles and Federer's 20.
But, during Sunday's fourth round match against No. 20 seed Pablo Carreno Busta, Djokovic's hopes of adding to his resume quickly dissipated when he was defaulted after he hit a ball in frustration that struck a line judge on the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Djokovic entered the tournament at 23-0 in 2020 and won the Australian Open earlier this year. He was aiming to win his 18th Grand Slam title and fourth US Open trophy.
Djokovic, 33, was the favorite to win this year's US Open men's singles title and entered as the No. 1 seed in the tournament partly due to the fact that both Nadal and Federer decided to opt out of this Grand Slam. Nadal cited the coronavirus pandemic still not being under control, and said he did not feel it would be safe to participate. Federer is missing the US Open due to his continued rehab from knee operations earlier this year.
Now, with all three members of tennis' 'Big Three' gone from the men's field, there will be a first-time Grand Slam champion at the US Open for the first time in six years. The last time was back in 2014 when Marin Cilic took home the first Grand Slam title of his career. The 2020 US Open will also be the first Grand Slam without Djokovic, Nadal or Federer in the semifinals since the 2004 French Open. Those semifinalists were Guillermo Coria, Gaston Gaudio, David Nalbandian and Tim Henman.
Furthermore, just four men outside of the 'Big Three' have won Grand Slams since 2006:
- Cilic (2014 US Open vs. Kei Nishikori)
- Andy Murray (2012 US Open vs. Djokovic; 2013 Wimbledon vs. Djokovic; 2016 Wimbledon vs. Milos Raonic)
- Stan Wawrinka (2014 Australian Open vs. Nadal; 2015 French Open vs. Djokovic; 2016 US Open vs. Djokovic)
- Juan Martin del Potro (2009 US Open vs. Federer)
The 2020 US Open men's field will continue without its overwhelming favorite and the champion for five of the last seven Grand Slams. This clears way for a new name in men's tennis to make his mark. The top seeds remaining are No. 2 Dominic Thiem and No. 3 Daniil Medvedev.
The 24-year-old Medvedev nearly broke through at last year's US Open, before falling to Nadal in an epic five-set championship match. With Nadal's 2019 US Open title, that meant that every Grand Slam since the beginning of the 2017 season was won by either Nadal, Djokovic or Federer.
Thiem, meanwhile, is 0-3 in Grand Slam finals. The most recent loss came in this year's Australian Open, to Djokovic, in five sets. His other two final losses? Back-to-back losses to Nadal at the 2018 and 2019 French Open championship matches.
It's obvious that the toughest competition for these youngsters on the men's side are the members of the 'Big Three.' So, now the field becomes essentially wide open with all three gone. Now, there's certainly going to be more pressure on some of men's players who have showed promise in recent seasons, like Medvedev and Thiem, but otherwise, it's anyone's tournament.
After Thiem and Medvedev, the remaining top seeds that could potentially be contenders for their first Grand Slam title: No. 5 seed Alexander Zverev, No. 6 Matteo Berrettini, No. 10 Andrey Rublev and No. 12 Denis Shapovalov.
Zverev, 23, lost to the eventual runner-up Thiem in the semis at this year's Australian Open. Berrettini, 24, made it the the semifinals of last year's US Open before losing to eventual champion Nadal in straight sets.
Rublev, 22, has notched wins over Federer, Thiem and Wawrinka but has never gotten past the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam. And finally, Shapovalov, 21, is past the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time in his career and he's hoping his bold shotmaking can take him even further.
Carreno Busta, who looked great against Djokovic up until the default ended their match, could also be a name to watch. It was here at the US Open that the Spaniard made his first Major semifinal appearance, in 2017. No. 24 Borna Coric has a chance to make a run after upsetting the No. 4 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in five sets in the third round.
Here are the latest odds via William Hill:
Daniil Medvedev: +188
Alexander Zverev: +333
Dominic Thiem: +350
Felix Auger Aliassime: +1000
Matteo Berrettini: +1200
Denis Shapovalov: +1200
Andrey Rublev: +1600
Borna Coric: +2000
Carreno Busta: +2500
Alex de Minaur: +3300
Vasek Pospisil: +4000
Frances Tiafoe: +8000
While the loss of the 'Big Three' in this year's US Open is surely felt by tennis fans worldwide, Djokovic's default may have created a silver lining. Fans will finally be able to see a new champion crowned in men's singles, a possibility that seems less likely every time any one of the three top players are playing in a Grand Slam.
The 2020 US Open has been forced to undergo drastic changes because of the global coronavirus pandemic, including hosting the event without any fans in attendance, limiting the number of people in a players' traveling team and keeping players inside a two-location (Queens, Long Island) bubble.
The US Open is just the second Grand Slam of the 2020 season after Wimbledon announced the cancelation of their tournament this year. The 2020 French Open (Roland Garros) was postponed from its usual late May to early June schedule, and instead is now scheduled to begin on Sept. 27. With these changes, the French Open is set to begin just two weeks after the conclusion of the US Open.