Men’s tennis has a problem, and it is one that it is sleepwalking straight into.
For years, the game’s big asset is now becoming it’s greatest concern – and it’s one that shows no real sign of being solved.
What happens when Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic decide to hang up their rackets?
Now, this is by no means an early obituary on the three but, with all three men now comfortably in their 30s, conversations are bound to take place about when these three legends of the game will call it a day – particularly the 37-year-old Federer.
In a perfect world, there would be a stream of young talent ready to step into the void and take their rightful places as heirs to the throne, but this situation is very different.
In sport we will often have a standout superstar, someone who stands above their peers, a modern-day great who takes their place in the pantheon of their respective game.
In men’s tennis, we are arguably in an era where the three best players of all-time are gracing us with their presence at once. Obviously this is up for some debate – but go by Grand Slam wins, not an ideal measure but a yardstick nonetheless, and the names Federer, Nadal and Djokovic top the list.
The last 61 Grand Slam semi-finals have featured either Federer, Nadal or Djokovic. Mind blowing 🤯 pic.twitter.com/rUgQrLOgcc— BenchWarmers (@BeWarmers) July 12, 2019
Their dominance is unrivaled, unknown in most sports, but now we must tentatively face the prospect of losing one, if not all of them, in the not too distant future.
To understand the way in which they have ruled over tennis in the last twelve years, you only have to look at Grand Slam finals. For the sake of this conversation, we are going to look at the three as a collective.
Since the moment Djokovic joined the other two as a Grand Slam finalist there have been only two occasions when his name or that of Federer or Nadal has not been in the final. Since the US Open showpiece of 2007, that is 48 finals with the inclusion of this year’s Wimbledon.
Of the three, Djokovic leads the way with 25 final appearances, Nadal, 21 and Federer 18 – the rest have 32 between them – with just eight of those ending up being wins.
During this time there have been plenty touted to break the monopoly – the likes of Grigor Dimitrov, Marin Cilic and Gael Monfils all appeared to have the tools at a young age but their challenge never materialised.
Andy Murray, with 11 finals and three Grand Slams under his belt along with a stint at world number one, was the only player to consistently threaten the big three – albeit his rise was cut short by injury.
The concern for the rest of the tour is even into their 30s, the dominance continues – they have now won the last 11 slams between them.
Names such as Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Denis Shapovalov and Karen Khachanov are entrusted with the future of the men’s game, but to this point have been unable to truly make their mark.
1. Novak Djokovic's record in 2019: 33-6 (85%)— Tumaini Carayol (@tumcarayol) July 10, 2019
2. Rafael Nadal's record in 2019: 37-5 (88%)
3. Roger Federer's record in 2019: 37-4 (90%)
4. Dominic Thiem's record in 2019: 23-10 (70%)
5. Alexander Zverev's record in 2019: 25-14 (64%)
They are playing different sports.
Thiem has a pair of slam final defeats to Nadal at Roland Garros, but other than that hasn’t been past a quarter final – he’s 25.
Zverev and Khachanov have three quarter-final appearances between them, and at 22 and 23 respectively. A caveat for the German is his end of season ATP Tour finals win, but that won’t appear on an epitaph. Tsitsipas and Shapovalov are, in fairness, only 20 – with the Greek having already reached a semi, while the Russian is still to make a quarter.
Federer, Nadal and Djokovic were all slam champions by the age of 21.
This lack of depth on the men’s side is in stark contrast to the women’s game. With Simona Halep’s win on Saturday, there are now 10 active players on the circuit who have won multiple Grand Slams. On the men’s side there are five; Murray, Stan Wawrinka – you know the other three.
For the fair-weather tennis fan this results in a lack of household names, and a potential apathy to the game outside the big three which has to be the biggest worry.
For now though, we must cherish every stroke. One day these incredible careers will come to an end, we can only hope for the sake of the game the torch is passed in time.
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Simona Halep produced a superb display in her first Wimbledon final to storm to the title and keep Serena Williams waiting again for number 24.
The 27-year-old’s 6-2 6-2 victory makes her the first Romanian to win a singles title at the All England Club and added to the French Open crown she claimed last summer.
This is the third time since Williams’ return last spring from the birth of her daughter that she has been one victory away from finally equalling Margaret Court’s all-time record for slam singles titles.
But, as she had against Angelique Kerber here 12 months ago and Naomi Osaka in New York, Williams once again fell short, seemingly unable to put thoughts of history out of her mind.
Enormous credit, though, must go to Halep, who showed herself to be not just one of tennis’ great defenders, chasing down everything Williams could throw at her, but also a strong attacking force.
But it was Halep’s day, the Romanian needing just 56 minutes to race to victory, dropping to her knees when Williams’ final forehand hit the net.
Halep had beaten Williams just once in 10 previous meetings, at the WTA Finals five years ago, but finally ending her grand slam drought in her fourth final had changed her mentality.
She has found her grass-court legs this tournament having previously struggled to adapt to the surface and played a superb match against Elina Svitolina in the semi-finals, losing only four games.
That was one more than Williams in her clash with Barbora Strycova but Halep was a step up from her previous opponents, and she showed that immediately.
Williams’ serve sets her apart from the rest of the women’s game but Halep had a read on it from the first point and she took advantage of a tight start from the American to break in the opening game.
One of the big questions was always going to be how heavily history would weigh on Williams’ shoulders, and she looked like she had lead in her right arm and her feet.
Halep, by contrast, was right at home in a Wimbledon final, and she brought the crowd to their feet with a running forehand winner to bring up more break points in Williams’ next service game, taking the first with a backhand down the line.
It seemed scarcely believable when she served the first ace of the match to make it 4-0.
Williams knew she needed to loosen up and quickly, and she stopped the rot with a service hold, striking the ball with much greater fluidity.
Halep would not yield, though, absorbing Williams’ power and sending it back with interest, first with a backhand pass that had her opponent applauding and then a forehand hooked from one corner to the other.
“Serena, wake up” came a shout from the crowd, but every time she thought she had hit a winner, back it came, and Halep wrapped up the opening set in just 26 minutes.
Williams had talked in the build-up about needing to tread the fine line between ice and fire, and the guttural roar she let out after winning the second point of the second set showed she was leaning towards the latter.
Another fierce grunt accompanied a 123mph serve into the net, but Halep was not about to be intimidated now she had come this far.
Williams has not won a grand slam final after losing the first set since 2005 so the size of the task was clear, but she was not up to it, Halep breaking serve again for 3-2 and never looking like faltering.
Provided by Press Association Sport
The men’s quarter-finals take place at Wimbledon on Wednesday with Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal all in action.
The trio will be favourites to fill three of the four semi-final berths, with the other going to Guido Pella or Roberto Bautista Agut, while Andy Murray and Serena Williams are back on court in the mixed doubles.
Here, PA previews the ninth day of action.
ORDER OF PLAY
Novak Djokovic v David Goffin
Kei Nishikori v Roger Federer
Guido Pella v Roberto Bautista Agut
Sam Querrey v Rafael Nadal
Andy Murray/Serena Williams v Bruno Soares/Nicole Melichar
With no Brits left in the singles draws, Murray is flying the flag in the mixed doubles. ‘Murena’ – the nickname chosen by Williams – have breezed through the first two rounds, but face a tougher test against top seeds Bruno Soares and Nicole Melichar
Match of the day
Federer’s showdown with Kei Nishikori is the only one of the four matches to have tallied with the seedings.
Eight-time winner Federer bowed out at the same stage last year to Kevin Anderson, while Nishikori won their last meeting at the ATP Finals in December.
Provided by Press Association Sport