Since the turn of the millennium, tennis has been dominated by familiar names. As they age, greats aren’t clearly giving up
The US Open Final will be remembered for the victory of ageism and the defeat of its embedded implication of fading away. For if we pan the performance of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Serena Williams, then it is clear that there is shelf life yet for star power in tennis and they still have endurance enough to last out the nerve-wracking uncertainties of competitive sport, own and dominate it even. Significantly, their standards have been emulated by the young as both Federer and Serena lost to learners who idolised them, the former in the quarter final to Grigor Dimitrov, lovingly called “Baby Federer” and the latter in the final to Bianca Andreescu, who has much of Serena’s bestial hunt and presence on the courts. Of course, fightback heroes don’t have as much glamour as the Grand Slam winner but Serena, who has reduced many a talent to a flash in the pan over the past decades and challenged medical issues, would be happy to have birthed somebody with equal power by being a spectacular inspiration. But it was Rafael Nadal who still stayed true king of the clay court. As an 18-year-old, who burst onto the international scene in 2005, tennis fans were already talking about him in hushed tones when the Spaniard from the island of Mallorca had what was to become one of the most dominant seasons on the clay courts around southern Europe. We say so because Nadal possibly owns all 10 of the topmost big seasons on clay courts. And 12 of the clay court Grand Slam tournaments at Paris’ Roland Garros. No other player has dominated a single tournament in the modern era as much as Nadal has at the French Open. But he scored a career Grand Slam ahead of his great friend and rival, Roger Federer, and after his stunning win at Flushing Meadows in New York City to claim his fourth US Open tennis title, he stands just one Grand Slam behind an ageing Federer at 19 titles.
Few eras in any individual sport in modern times have been dominated by so few. Alongside the Spaniard and the Swiss Federer is the Serbian player Novak Djokovic and until he was forced to withdraw, the Scotsman Andy Murray was a part of the foursome. It is not funny that the top three have won 55 Grand Slam tournaments between them, with Murray winning three more. But while Murray’s chronic pains have already forced him to pretty much leave the sport, the “Big Three” of men’s tennis are still chugging along, giving more evidence that modern training and recovery techniques can keep athletes at the top for longer periods of time than ever before. Serena has clearly outlasted her peers and is not giving up yet, ready to now fight her legacy. It is unlikely that another period of such dominance will ever be witnessed again in any sport, let alone the king of racquet sports.