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Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal’s dominance underlines shortcomings of new tennis generation

While the romanticism around Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal is expected to remain for the foreseeable future, it’s fair to say the next generation of tennis hasn’t really stepped up.

tennis Updated: Jun 30, 2018 14:49 IST
Bihan Sengupta
Bihan Sengupta
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
Roger Federer,Rafael Nadal,Wimbledon
Go back 15 years, to the start of Wimbledon in June 2003, Federer was 21 and had not yet reached No. 1 in the ATP rankings. Nadal hadn't hadn't even entered a major tournament in 2003. These days, he trails only Federer in the all-time men's Grand Slam standings, with 17 of his own, including No. 11 at the French Open just this month. (AP)

In modern sport a lot can change over the span of a decade, especially as technological advancements have only helped in aiding an athlete’s technical aspects.

Yet when the seedings were announced for this year’s Wimbledon tennis Grand Slam, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were still placed as the top two seeds… just like they were in 2008.

They’ve defied age and injuries and still look far from finished. A look at the past six Grand Slam winners in the men’s discipline further reinstates their dominance in the past decade.

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“What Roger’s (Federer) done is out of this world. Novak (Djokovic) and Andy (Murray) were higher in the rankings and looked like taking over and it looked like these guys (Federer and Rafael Nadal) were going in the wrong direction but these guys are like the two best players ever. Thank God for the game that they’re still there,” said an elated John McEnroe, who is a commentator with ESPN, in a media conference call.

The former American champion, himself a winner of three Wimbledon titles, further went on to add that he found the Swiss maestro skipping the clay court season absolutely justified.

“Roger didn’t play the clay court last season and he won the Wimbledon. It was pretty much a no-brainer that he would do the same thing. I mean why would he do something different? He’s won Australia again. I mean it’s incredible what he’s done! If I were him, I wouldn’t change a thing!”

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Chris Evert, who was also a part of the call and a fellow expert with ESPN, agreed with McEnroe. “Anybody who’s 36 and is still playing at this high level winning 20 Grand Slams can afford to be selfish and think about himself.

“If he wants to take three-four months off a year, so be it. And I think Serena (Williams) and Nadal are in the same boat as well,” added Evert, who has 18 Grand Slam titles under her belt.

However, while the romanticism around the two is expected to remain for the foreseeable future, it’s fair to say the next generation hasn’t really stepped up.

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Unlike Nadal, Djokovic and Federer who won their maiden Grand Slam titles at the age of 19, 20 and 21, respectively, the likes of Chung Hyeon (22), Andrey Rublev (20), Denis Shapovalov (19) and Alexander Zverev (21) have yet to get a sniff at a Grand Slam title win.

The best showing by any of the above mentioned players is a semi-final appearance by the South Korean Hyeon at the Australian Open earlier this year, a run that saw him stun Novak Djokovic.

Evert feels the women’s discipline is struggling with the same issues as well.

“When Serena was out of her game, we wanted someone to fill in her shoes to some extent and we had seven-eight Grand Slam winners. But no one could really do what the likes of like Martinas (Navratilova) and Steffis (Graff) did. They won eight-nine tournaments every year,” Evert said.

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For the upcoming Wimbledon as well, the 63-year-old opted to fall back on the seven-time champion. “I will give her (Williams) as much chance as anyone else (to win the trophy). She’s embraced motherhood to the maximum and I’m surprised it still hasn’t taken the edge away any bit.”

“I remember when I had my first child and I didn’t want to do anything else but then this is Serena and she does the unimaginable and unpredictable! You can never count her out.” She also backed former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova to go the distance claiming the 28-year-old is “always going to be dangerous on grass”.

McEnroe, however, was quick to credit where it’s due. “I really keep waiting for who’s going to step up. The Dimitrovs seem to have been doing it, Milos (Raonic) had it, (in him but) detoured… All those mid-20 guys had a couple of runs,” he added.

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“And now with the next generation, (Nick) Kyrios had the opportunity but he doesn’t seem to have taken an advantage of it, (Jack) Sock broke into the top-10 but he had a poor run. So they really don’t seem to be grabbing it. Credit to the greats, the all-time greats in notching up one after the other.”

The American great also backed Marin Cilic, who recently bagged the Queen’s Club title to break the six-Slam Rafa-Roger streak if it had to come to an end.

He further added that he felt Nadal’s draw was “as beautiful a draw as he could ask for” and the Spaniard should reach the latter stages of the tournament.

First Published: Jun 30, 2018 09:51 IST