Instead of taking advantage of Novak Djokovic’s return to humanity from his superhuman 2011 season, Rafael Nadal keeps missing tournaments since losing early on at Wimbledon. First the Olympics, then the Canadian and Cincinnati Masters, and now finally the US Open.

This is the third time since Nadal’s rise to prominence in 2005 that he has missed a Grand Slam tournament, teaching us about the severity of his knee problems. Tennis players may skip tournaments to get themselves ready for big ones, but they usually show up, even not a 100% for Grand Slams. If skipping the Olympics sounded normal, because it’s grass and it was right after Wimbledon, not giving Nadal enough time to rest his banged up knees, than seeing him miss the US Open for the first time in his career is more than a worrying announcement.

How bad is it? Career threatening? It’s hard to say. Nadal has never been out for this long, already missing a huge chunk of the Tennis season, which might eventually cost him his third spot in the rankings. That’s not his main concern right now – returning to the courts not as soon as possible but as healthy as possible is the only goal that should be in front of him, but we’re left to wonder what kind of player will return from this long hiatus.

2010 Was the year that put Nadal on the path to legendary fame. Three Grand Slam titles in a year, completing the career grand slam and actually getting on pace to tie things up with Roger Federer. Since then it’s been only two Roland Garros wins, and losses to Djokovic in three more finals. Not bad, but not the kind of pace that gets you to the number one spot of all time. Not the kind of pace some thought would officially make Nadal the greatest player in the history of tennis.

Maybe it’s been a bit over dramatic, but when these injuries show up again and again, you have to be a bit pessimistic about his chances to win a lot more titles, especially major ones, and especially off the clay courts. Maybe we’ll get to see Nadal in the Paris and Shanghai Masters, but it’s more and more likely that we won’t. It’s too soon to talk about career-ending doom type of messages we’re picking up from these forfeits, but it certainly looks more and more serious regarding his present and future in the world of tennis, which is bad news for everyone else as well.