The absence of Roger Federer’s name among the top four US Open seeds triggers an assumption that he must be injured. You just don’t look further down the list for Federer. If he’s not in the top four, he must not be here at all, right? The quartet at the top of men’s tennis has for years been about as lapidary as the Beatles line-up. (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray have won 33 of the last 34 Grand Slam titles.) But the Swiss tennis grandmaster is here, lurking–as much as lurking is possible under a media spotlight brighter than the summer sun above Flushing Meadows. The dissonant number next to Federer’s name–his seed–is 7, meaning the cognoscenti believe six men have a better chance of winning this egalitarian championship. The number looks odd: perhaps an accidental 7 formed by an enthusiastic flourish on the number 1? But 7 strikes a poignant note too, not just for the luck it allies itself with (and which every champion needs a dose of), but for being the number of days in a week. Because it’s those record-breaking weeks that Federer, over the course of his magisterial career, spent at #1 that–like every breath you take–make additional weeks and more breaths precious. And from an actuarial view, ever more unlikely.
Do we now begin to measure what’s left of Federer’s career in weeks, not years? Federer will make concessions and adjustments. He’s brought his larger racket with him, his days of obstinately playing the violin while others smash their electric guitars are now over. Typically the new racket is still not as large as those of his opponents, but then neither is he, and this has only recently seemed to matter, the latest losses all coming against bigger men. There are a lot of exciting stories to watch in the Men’s draw at the 2013 Open. Andy Murray will defend his inspired 2012 championship, having triumphantly added Wimbledon to his trophy case since breaking through last year in New York. He’d be #1 except for the extraordinary Novak Djokovic, whose blend of talent and determination makes for a potent cocktail of one part Federer, two parts Ivan Lendl. Djokovic is the favorite, but don’t tell that to Rafa Nadal–he’ll just hit it back like he does absolutely everything else. David Ferrer, playing the best tennis of his life, finds his name in place of Federer’s in the top four. (Again the faulty eye-blink assumption: did they misspell Federer?) New York loves its history almost as much as it loves something new. It’ll be a perfect place to see if number 7 is lucky, or if it’s just another stop on the way down.