x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Tennis’ old guard holding serve on the men’s side – for now

After Novak Djokovic's Wimbledon triumph over Roger Federer, Ahmed Rizvi examines what we have learnt over the last fortnight

Novak Djokovic, left, of Serbia shakes hands with Roger Federer of Switzerland after their Wimbledon men's singles final on July 6, 2014 in London, England. Pool / Getty Images
Novak Djokovic, left, of Serbia shakes hands with Roger Federer of Switzerland after their Wimbledon men's singles final on July 6, 2014 in London, England. Pool / Getty Images

Big Four are not going away

After Stan Wawrinka’s Australian Open triumph, the tennis world was abuzz with excitement, heralding his win as the dawn of a new era where the “Big Four” would no longer enjoy exclusive rights to grand slam title glory.

Since Marat Safin’s 2005 Australian Open triumph, only Juan Martin del Potro (2009 US Open) had been able to break the Big Four’s reign at the majors. If you were not Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray, even reaching the semis was considered an achievement.

The excitement was understandable, but as Federer said last week: “It was always going to be hard to get rid of all four guys at the same time, let’s just be honest.”

That is true. At the French Open, Federer tumbled early, but the other three of the Big Four were in the semis and Nadal beat Djokovic for the title. At Wimbledon, Murray and Nadal failed to reach the semis, but Djokovic and Federer did and played the final, as well.

So, it seems, the Australian Open was just an aberration, a false dawn. The Big Four are not going anywhere, not yet, and the way Djokovic is playing, that reign might continue for some time.

Future is bright

While the Big Four might not be ready to loosen their grip, Wimbledon did show up a few youngsters, who are willing to give the door a push.

Grigor Dimitrov may not belong in that “youngster” category any more, but the Bulgarian, who is 23 and has long been considered one of the most talented in the generation next, seems finally to be living up to that billing. Milos Raonic and Jiri Vesely should also step into the elite ranks.

But the breakout star at Wimbledon was Nick Kyrgios, who beat Nadal and reached the quarter-finals. The Australian, with his swagger, style and incredible shot making, could be one of the biggest threats to the Big Four. Murray and Federer already had anointed him as a future superstar, but after his performance at Wimbledon, he could be on a fast track to that status.

Change is happening

Wimbledon also gave a glimpse into the future of women’s tennis, and the cupboard is really not as bare as once feared.

Not so long ago, with Serena Williams dominating the scene and a 30-plus Li Na winning the Australian Open, fans did seem a bit concerned, but the emergence of Eugenie Bouchard has definitely raised their spirits.

The only woman to reach the semis at the Australian and French Opens, the Canadian went a step further at the All England, making it to the final. She came up short against Petra Kvitova but there is little doubt Bouchard will bounce back and lead the change of guard on the WTA Tour, if she is not doing that already.

Age seems to be catching up to Williams, finally, and most of the others behind her in the rankings look a bit jaded. The time is ripe for Bouchard and the likes of Simona Halep, Garbine Muguruza, Donna Vekic, Madison Keys and Belinda Bencic to come to the fore.

A query on Serena Williams

Williams remains a hugely divisive figure and she deserves some of the blame for it.

What really happened during that doubles match? If she had a “viral infection” and felt as disoriented as she seemed when hitting those serves into the net, why was she on the court? If she is going to come out on court and behave like that, then it is going to lead to insinuations.

“I think virus, whatever they’re saying it was, I don’t think that was it,” Martina Navratilova said. “I don’t know what it is, but I hope Serena will be OK and, most of all, I don’t know how she ended up walking onto the court.”

Chris Evert also did not think it was a virus and wondered if it is “something unintentional or intentional in her system that they may drug test for?” ESPN’s Pam Shriver felt Williams had “taken something that makes her feel dizzy, disoriented and she cannot reach up and strike the ball”.

Evert and Shriver have faced a barrage of criticism since, with many alleging racism, which is a problem. Critical conversations about the Williams sisters always run the gauntlet of being considered racist.

What ails American tennis?

If an Olympic-style points system was in place at Wimbledon, Canada would have taken gold. Raonic reached the semis and Bouchard the final.

Sadly, their neighbours, the United States, would struggle to make the top 10. There were 10 Americans in the men’s main draw and only four made it to the second round. Only one of those, John Isner, reached the third round, before losing to Feliciano Lopez.

Twelve Americans were in the women’s draw and, although only four lost in the first round, none made the fourth.

There was some good news. Two Americans – Noah Rubin and Stefan Kozlov – contested the boys’ final. But then, Donald Young won the junior championship at Wimbledon in 2007 and at the Australian Open in 2005 but has yet to win a championship of any sort at the senior level. So the direction of American tennis remains uncertain.


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