New York - An unlikely group of US Open contenders, one destined to become a first-time Grand Slam finalist, has a message for injured stars Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray - don't hurry back.
The former world number ones withdrew from the New York hardcourt showdown with injuries, Djokovic an elbow and Murray his left hip.
Defending champion Stan Wawrinka and Grand Slam runner-ups Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic are also hurt and absent.
Suddenly, half the draw has no top-10 player and only one of its eight men has reached a Slam semi-final, US 17th seed Sam Querrey, who only made it in July at Wimbledon.
"It will be weird to have a guy in a final that has never been there before," Querrey said. "There's just an opening right now for different guys to go far. It's a little more opportunity and kind of a freak year with all these injuries."
Top-ranked 31-year-old Rafael Nadal and 36-year-old third seed Roger Federer, both Grand Slam winners this year after extended breaks, are on the other side of the draw.
"Maybe a couple years ago, it was Rafa and Roger, people were like, 'Oh, maybe they're too old, maybe they're not good enough or strong enough,'" German 23rd seed Mischa Zverev said. "They took some time off. They got healthy again. Now they're playing really good tennis.
"Maybe it's time for Novak and Andy to do something similar."
The longer they stay gone the more likely are runs by such unusual suspects as Italy's Paolo Lorenzi, the oldest man in the Open Era (since 1967) to reach a Slam last-16 for the first time at age 35, or 18-year-old Canadian teen qualifier Denis Shapovalov, youngest Open fourth-rounder since Michael Chang at 17 in 1989 and first qualifier since Gilles Muller in 2008.
"It helps players like myself... to kind of have a chance and not play Novak or Andy Murray in the early stages," Shapovalov said. "It definitely opens up the draw quite a bit.
"I think in a year or two, the rankings are really going to change. There is a lot of young guys coming up, and the tour has got a lot of veterans right now. It's kind of a transition time for the ATP."
Zverev, whose fourth-seeded younger brother Alexander went out in the second round, says past success contributed to current injuries, notably Djokovic winning four Slams in a row over 2015-2016 and Murray reaching the last eight in 22 of 23 Slams from 2011-2016.
"A lot of players are injured because many of them played really good tennis for so many years," Zverev said. "A body can break down no matter how well you take care of it, how much you train. I think it's human."
Nadal won his 10th French Open title in July for his 15th Slam crown while Federer captured the Wimbledon and Australian Open titles, boosting his record trophy total to 19 majors.
But the next star could be lurking across the draw this year in Spanish 12th seed Pablo Carreno Busta, the first Open Era player to face four qualifiers in a Slam, or Diego Schwartzman, the Argentine 29th seed who ousted 2014 US Open winner Marin Cilic.
"Many players are injured this week. We're trying to take the chances and go forward," said Schwartzman.
And the mystery of what one might accomplish excites them all.
"You never know who will do well in a couple days and be in the semis or finals. It's definitely going to be different this year," Zverev said.
"Someone that's going to be now in the quarters or semis at the US Open this year might be the next top-five player 14 months from now."