Why is tennis static in 2019 and when will we see a change in direction for the better?

As we head into the first Grand Slam of 2019 it seems that top level tennis is stuck in something of a time loop. In fact it appears that the top of the game was been caught in the same cycle for as long as anyone cares to remember.
Ahead of the Australian Open this year the favourites to lift the men’s trophy in Melbourne are Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

But is it “same old same old”

Before a ball is struck in the women’s game, the clear favourite to win the event is Serena Williams. This has pretty much been the case at every Grand Slam for the last decade. Yes, one of these big names might have been out through injury, and there have been one or two other names that have interjected themselves into the discussion, but by-in-large, these four players have been immovable at the top of the tennis betting lists for years and years.

Andy Murray’s announcement that this is likely to be his last year as a professional tennis player shines an even brighter light on the longevity of these four legends at the top of the sport. The Scot, in most other eras, could have been the finest player of his generation, certainly battling it out in the top two players on the planet. However, in the years he has been competing at world level, he has largely been left in the wake of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.

Murray reached his first Grand Slam final later than any of his three rivals, and it looks likely he has already been to his last, at Wimbledon in 2016. The Swiss, the Spaniard and the Serb have all won Grand Slam titles since then and could well have more to come in their ridiculously impressive careers.

Serena is an even more impressive example of longevity at the very pinnacle of tennis. She won her first Grand Slam 20 years ago at the 1999 US Open and now has 23 titles to her name.

It is hard to fathom that at 37-years-old she is going to Melbourne this year as the favourite, 21 years after her first appearance there and after winning the event seven times. How can she still be performing at the highest level after all that time? How has no other player caught up to her? How much longer can she possibly keep going for at the very top?

Out with the old and get some new in!

Murray is younger than all four of these sporting freaks and his career is about to come to an end. Yes, he is dealing with a very serious hip injury, but the fact that the quartet of older competitors are not only continuing past the end of his time on the court, but still dominating it further demonstrates their supreme achievements.

On the news that Murray was bringing his tennis career to an end, there has been much discussion about where he sits in the pantheon of British sports stars. He is certainly near the top of any list that would be put together, and some are suggesting he is the greatest sportsman ever to emerge from the UK. Yet, his achievements do not hold a candle to those of Novak, Roger, Serena or Rafa. But! All good things must come to an end, and although this has been dubbed a Golden Era for tennis, especially in the men’s game, there is a feeling that it is not necessarily a good thing anymore. Sports thrive when there are dominant champions who rule the roost, but they need new challengers, the game needs to develop and interest needs to be continually renewed and recycled.

Why Not learn From Other Sports?

Tiger Woods dominated golf at his peak and it was a boom time for the sport. But he was caught by his rivals and overtaken. He remains a huge draw, but the game has been naturally recycled as it should be.

Muhammad Ali was the most popular sportsman on the planet in his pomp, but he needed the challenge of Joe Frazier and then for Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick to bring his career to an end and new stars to emerge.

Opening up the tennis betting lists in 2019 and seeing Federer, Djokovic, Nadal and Williams with the shortest prices is incredible, but it is not exciting. It does not bring in any new fans to the sport. Frankly, it has you questioning what the younger players in the game are doing.

So could 2019 be the year we see the new faces emerge and the sport recycled? Is it the year that the old skin is shed after years of becoming just a little bit stale and tired-looking. In the men’s game, probably not. In the women’s game, there is every chance that the tide is about to turn.

Djokovic, Federer and Nadal are still head and shoulders above the competition, even with them all in their 30s now and Roger pushing on towards 40. The last eight Grand Slam titles have been shared between the trio with Novak winning two, Rafa three and Roger three.

That dominance is not about to evaporate in 2019, and while there are contenders to pinch a Grand Slam from the table of the leading men, there is no one who is about to take a seat with them.

Which are the new tennis names to watch for through 2019?

Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem are coming men on the biggest stage and it would be surprising if neither pick up a Grand Slam title in the future, but neither are ready to perform on the consistently superb level of the big three.

Zverev is just 21 and has huge potential, but is yet to make it past the quarter-final of a Grand Slam. Thiem made it to the final of the French Open last year, but his comfortable straight sets loss to Nadal put him back in his place.

Federer turns 38 this year and retirement cannot be too far away, but it does not look like it will come in 2019. Before that happens, we can expect him and his two younger rivals to dominate for some time to come.

The women’s game, however, may be reaching a changing of the guard much sooner. Obviously it is easier for this to happen with only one dominant force at the top of the game rather than three, and Serena is already starting to lose her air of invincibility.

Williams did not actually win a Grand Slam title in 2018, reaching the finals of Wimbledon and the US Open but losing out to Angelique Kerber and Naomi Osaka respectively. At 30-years-old (very nearly 31 at the time of writing) Kerber is not about to begin a lengthy reign at the top of the sport, but she certainly has more Grand Slam titles in her future.

The German has won in Australian, London and the US already and will be considered a serious contender at all three again this year. The last three times Kerber has played Serena have been in Grand Slam finals and Angelique has won two of those meetings, so she has a very good argument that she is competing on a similar level to the American legend already. Osaka announced herself as one of the brightest prospects in the sport when she beat Serena in straight sets at the US Open in 2018 – ignoring the controversy that Williams caused.

The 21-year-old will fancy her chances at the Australian Open and there is little question that she will pick up more Grand Slam titles over the coming years. She has played Williams twice and won both matches without dropping a set. If anyone is about to commence an era even close to what Serena has achieved, it is the young Japanese star.

Williams will also have a tough time getting through Slams with the likes of:

  • Simona Halep
  • Elina Svitolina
  • Aryna Sabalenka and
  • Daria Kasatkina

hunting her down.

All at different stages of their development, but all with genuine major title ambitions in 2019, there is a much wider pool of serious challengers in the women’s game than in the men’s.

Out with the old and in with the new… Upstarts

While Roger, Rafa and Novak give the impression of three wolves, still in or near their prime, more than capable of defending their territory as a small pack against the younger, weaker challengers. Serena is more than ageing lioness, scrapping hard to keep hold of her patch, but suffering with battle wounds and gradually succumbing to the inevitable.

The changing of the guard is needed in tennis and it is coming to the women’s game. However, the men’s tournaments will remain in the same old time loop for a while yet.

Posted in , Tennis | 0 comments

August 14th, 2019 by Simon A

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