Time For A Change?(written by Emre Saridogan)
The same players seem to be winning over and over again in men’s tennis. Since the turn of the decade, there have only been 6 different winners of Grand Slams, despite 31 Grand Slams having been played since then. Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic are the only 2 of these 6 that don’t belong to the Big Four (or in other words Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and Murray). So what is stopping someone else from having a go? This article will explore why.
First of all, the thing that is particularly striking about this continued dominance is the age of all of the Big Four. Federer is 37, Nadal 32 is and Djokovic and Murray are both 31. This is a long way past what used to be considered the prime of a tennis player. Sampras retired at 31 and Bjorn Borg stopped at 26. But with the continued dominance of Nadal, Federer and Djokovic in Grand Slams, it doesn’t look as though any of these players are even considering the end of their illustrious careers.
Usually as great players get older, the younger and more energetic replace them. However this just doesn’t seem to be happening, despite the all emphasis put on the ATP NextGen initiative. Young players now have wide media coverage and colossal sponsorship deals worth millions of dollars a year, as well as a year-end tournament exclusively for players under 21 just to help them develop their games. However, the results of this have been fairly disappointing.
Grigor Dimitrov is a perfect example of this. Things were going well not so long ago for the Bulgarian, having won the ATP World Tour Finals and reached the Australian Open semi-finals last year, but Dimitrov has now exited the last two Grand Slams in the opening round, and has not won a single title this year. He is slowly dropping in the rankings, and is unlikely to be the one to change tennis. More likely candidates are Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem. Although Thiem has played in a Grand Slam final, he was beaten comprehensively by a Rafael Nadal who will seemingly never lose at Roland Garros, and the Austrian cannot seem to understand the importance of having a week off, often ending up too burnt out to make any sort of impact in the second half of the season. Although Zverev has won 3 Masters 1000 titles, beating both Djokovic and Federer in finals, he has yet to make a mark in Grand Slams, having only reached one Quarter Final. He was beaten by veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber in Round 3 of this year’s US Open, and one now wonders if he will ever achieve his potential in Grand Slams
There are other young players, but as of yet, none of them have shown any evidence of Grand Slam winning tennis. No ATP NextGen players remain in the US Open. So who is left to challenge the Big Four? Juan Martin del Potro has shown he can beat the best, beating Federer, Nadal and Djokovic in the last two years. His promising career has been hampered by several wrist surgeries, and he is only now looking dangerous again, reaching a career high rank of three. Stan Wawrinka, Marin Cilic and Kevin Anderson are threats as well, but seem to be infuriatingly inconsistent, and only find their best tennis on select days.
At this moment in time, we are possibly watching 3 of the greatest players ever to have played tennis. And although we are privileged to be able to witness this, perhaps the predictability of tennis suggests it is now time for someone else to come through. This is happening in the women’s game, but for the men, there have been no signs of this yet, with Federer, Nadal and Djokovic all still in contention at the US Open. Nadal will play Dominic Thiem in the Quarter Finals, while Federer and Djokovic play John Millman and Joao Sousa respectively in the 4th Round. Will they all be knocked out? It is unlikely judging by the last 8 years…