Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have dominated the Grand Slams since 2003. Their dominance has become only profound and unabated in the last three years. With Nadal’s recent triumph at Roland Garros, he extended the streak of major trophies won by players aged 30 or older to 11. The last player under 30 to win a slam was Andy Murray at 2016 Wimbledon when he was 29.
The last player to break the streak that these three have going was Stan Wawrinka at 2016 US Open. Every time one of these three wins a slam, again, an obvious question is asked: What next? Who after the three have retired? Will one or two players dominate the scenes? Will it be a free-for-all with different champions for every slam? Last time the men’s tour saw four different slam winners was 2014 (Wawrinka, Nadal, Djokovic, Marin Cilic)
“I don’t know what future brings, but I’m sure it will be bright for tennis,” said Djokovic during the French Open. “We are very fortunate to be part of the sport that is very global, that is very popular around the world and played around the world and has been historically one of the most important sports globally.”
“Sure, I mean, being in this era, you know, it seems like it’s going to be hard for anyone to kind of do something the same that three of us did or even better, but you never know what happens. I mean, the sport, as everything in life, is evolving, is changing. ”
“I’m sure that we will see some changes in the game itself, maybe scoring system, you know, things like that. You know, NextGen Finals, for example, is testing out new things. So that’s an indication that the thinking of ATP and the world of tennis and tournaments is going in that direction.”
“Because the millennials require different kind of – their attention span is shorter and it’s different from generations before, so you have to adjust, I guess. But I think tennis will do well, even when we stop playing,” he went on to add.
Federer had the same thoughts during the tournament where Nadal clinched his jaw-dropping 12th French Open. “I think a lot of my fans or Novak's fans or Rafa's fans, when any one of us retires, will feel a bit of a void,” Federer said.
“But I think it will just take a few years after that to fall in love with another player. Because if you love tennis, you don't love the game because of one player.”
“You love it because of the sport and what it does to you and how you feel about it. Tennis will only get better as time goes by. I know I'll be watching,” he went on to add.
But the question is, who will be the next big thing?
Women’s tennis, meanwhile, does not have the same problem. Even with Serena Williams, 37, desperately looking to take her slam tally to 24 to match Margaret Court, there are the likes of reigning French Open champion and new World No 1 Ashleigh Barty who are just 23. With the title in Birmingham, Barty displaced Naomi Osaka from the top spot. Osaka, 21, has already proven herself to be a tough cookie with US Open and Australian Open titles. The Japanese at 21 became the youngest woman, since Caroline Wozniacki in 2010, to become the top ranked player, and the first Asian player ever to take the top spot.
Even if we move away from the Grand Slams, the pinnacle of tennis, Bianca Andreescu, 18, winning at Indian Wells indicated the WTA youngsters have it in them to win titles. With her first-ever WTA singles title, a Premier Mandatory no less, Andreescu emulated the success of Osaka who had triumphed in the Californian sun a year ago for what was her first WTA title.
Other WTA young guns to make a mark have been Aryna Sabalenka (21; entered top-20 last year with titles in New Haven, Wuhan and Shenzhen, fourth round finish at the US Open), Amanda Anisimova (17; title in Bogota and fourth round exit in Indian Wells), Sofia Kenin (20; title in Hobart, finalist in Acapulco, third round at US Open), Marketa Vondrousova (20; finalist at Budapest, Istanbul and French Open).
Then there are the more established players who are not in the NextGen category (21 years or younger): Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova, Kiki Bertens, Simona Halep, Sloane Stephens, Belinda Bencic, Madison Keys, Anett Kontaveit inside the top-20 WTA rankings.
In comparison, the men’s young guns have been able to win titles in the ATP 250 and ATP 500 or even the year-ending championships, but they have been unable to break the ‘Big 3’ at the slams. Prime among players to take over from Federer, Nadal and Djokovic and still have plenty of years left in them are Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Karen Khachanov, Borna Coric and Daniil Medvedev who all feature in the top-20 of the rankings.
Zverev won the 2018 ATP Finals, has three Masters 1000 titles but his record in slams doesn't make for pretty reading. Ever since playing his first main draw at 2015 Wimbledon, the German's best result has been the quarters at 2018, 2019 French Open. Thiem, meanwhile, fared better with two semifinals at Roland Garros in 2016, 2017 followed by two runners-up finishes against the beast that is Nadal.
In terms of the sheer promise, support by the crowd and talent to back that up, Tsitsipas is a great potential. Tsitsipas, the youngest highest ranked player, has three ATP titles and has shown rise in learning curve at slams. This year he achieved his best result at a slam by reaching the semis of Australian Open backed by an incredibly loud Greek and Cypriot crowd.
Without a doubt, there is plenty of talent in the 21-and-under category of men's tennis. There is Denis Shapovalov, Frances Tiafoe, Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev, Alex de Minaur and Felix Auger-Aliassime. Felix or 'FAA' as he's abbreviated by most, is in the periphery of top-20 and he is yet to play a Grand Slam match!
No of WTA players born in/after 1990 to win a slam: 8
No of ATP players born in/after 1990 to win a slam: 0
Possibly no other stat can sum up the difference between WTA and ATP players and the high-pressure, high-intensity atmosphere of a Grand Slam than the above. So, ATP can sell the dream all they want, but WTA is doing better — without a Next Gen product
Updated Date: Jun 28, 2019 18:05:58 IST