Tennis Opinion: Status Quo

Tennis player stands with racquet in hand

Damien Kayat examines the shift - or lack thereof - of power within men's tennis. 

The reemergence of Tiger Woods in competitive golf has certainly helped to reenergize a sport that he carried kicking and screaming into the 21st century on his back. It got me to thinking about how little has changed in the last decade, with Tiger and Roger Federer resurgent in their giving professions.

Golf, however, is unique in its ability to allow the 40+ crowd an extended opportunity to compete at the very highest level. Tennis is perhaps one of the most physically demanding sports at the highest level. So why is it that 36-year-old Federer has come back from the Grand Slam wilderness to dominant the game again; at what point do we stop exulting the Swiss genius and look more pointedly at the so called ‘Next Gen’?

Clearly the injury woes of both Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have contributed to Federer’s rejuvenation- added to that the recent trials of Rafa Nadal. But that doesn’t really address the fundamental question of where the next tennis great is coming from. If anything, this past generations bit part players are emerging as a bigger threat, with the likes of Marin Cilic and Juan Martin Del Potro knocking on that Grand Slam door. Why is it that the likes of Alex Zverev and Grigor Dimitrov continually flatter to deceive? I love Roger as much as the next guy, but am I the only one who finds it a bit depressing when one these potential usurpers of the throne get ignominiously dumped from Slams by journeyman pros?

Perhaps the answer lies less in ability and more in psychology. Knowing that you are at the vanguard of a generation that must forge its own identity, in the wake of perhaps the most indelible period in the history of the sport, must be daunting. In a sense, that first slam captured by this group- and it will eventually happen- will be more defined by the break from the past then by the victor himself.

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Alex Zverev has clearly all the attributes to become the World Number One player in the future. The way he dismantled Federer in the Canadian final last season hinted at a potential changing of guard that made the world stand up and pay attention. But his physical deterioration in five set Grand Slam matches stands in stark contrast to the seemingly ageless muscle memory exhibited by Roger Federer. Perhaps the younger generation can take a lesson from Roger in managing their bodies and not participating in as many events; I’m looking at you especially David Goffin.

If Nadal returns from injury soon, he will likely once again dominate the clay court season. Federer will likely take a hiatus should Nadal be fit, which should theoretically give others- especially clay-court aficionado Dominic Thiem, a greater chance at capturing a Slam. But such has been Nadal’s utter hegemony in Roland Garros that it seems even less likely that a new Grand Slam champion will be crowned in Paris, even with the possible absence of Roger Federer. And Wimbledon, with the idiosyncratic nature of grass, always plays into the hands of the cannier pros.

Grigor Dimitrov is perhaps the player who has found this period the toughest. Cruelly labelled with the moniker ‘Baby Fed’, the Bulgarian showed in Cincinnati and at the World Tour Finals that his game can beat any on the world stage. But the truculent Dimitrov has been hugely frustrating this season, with that defeat to Kyle Edmund in Melbourne underlying some of his mental weaknesses.

There are so many excellent players on tour. I haven’t even gone into the emerging Borna Coric or the indefatigable Hyeon Chung. But I just feel that we are getting to a point where something must give in the men’s game. No sport should be allowed to grow complacent and enthralled to trends. Listening to the commentators of world tennis fawn over the majesty of Federer in a non-stop loop has grown insufferable, even to a life-long Roger Federer devotee such as myself. The future please, and soon.

Written by Damien Kayat for @Hollywoodbets.net

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