At 35-years-of-age, Roger Federer has won the biggest two tournaments of the 2017 tennis season to date and while the seemingly timelessness of his talent must be celebrated, questions need to be asked of the younger generation.
The 2017 Australian Open saw Federer claim his 18th grand slam title. A month later and the Swiss sensation lifted the first ATP Masters 1000 trophy of the new season at Indian Wells.
The ability of this man on a tennis court must not be lost in any context. The amount he has achieved is as impressive as how he has achieved it – with style, elegance, grace and minimal strain on his body (relatively speaking).
Federer has found a way of being the best without breaking his back. Something the likes of Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have not really been able to do.
While Federer is committed, determined, feisty and ultra-competitive, he does not put his body through the stress that the aforementioned players do during either matches or training.
He operates well within the limits of his frame and relies on raw talent and skill where others look for physical superiority to get an edge over their rivals.
Symbolic of his unique approach to the game in an era in sport where science has become increasingly important is the story of his eating habits during the Wimbledon fortnight.
Federer has won Wimbledon seven times but it is believed that he eats from the Rajdoot, the local curry house in the famous English village, at least four or five times during the tournament.
Whether that is true or whether the charismatic waiters at the restaurant were pulling my leg, is beside the point. It’s believable and it’s believable because Federer is great because he is a great tennis player while others are great because they are good tennis players and brilliant athletes.
I’m getting side-tracked here, but the point is that Federer must be admired for his lofty achievements in the sport as much as he must be respected for the manner in which he has got it done.
In my opinion, he is the best player of the modern era, probably the best player ever. I want that to be clear before moving on.
What is concerning for tennis as a sport though is how he, along with Djokovic, Murray, and Nadal have been allowed to dominate for so long.
Especially now, in a time where Federer is getting on and has just recovered from an injury-riddled 2016 season, Murray and Djokovic have been understandably distracted by the responsibilities of fatherhood, and Nadal’s body is not allowing him to play the way he always has.
Federer was 21 when he won his first grand slam at SW19 in 2003. Nadal won Roland Garros at 19. Djokovic won the Australian Open at 20 years of age. Murray was 25 when he lifted his first grand slam at Flushing Meadows in 2012.
Outside of those four players, only Stan Wawrinka, Juan Martín del Potro and Marin Čilić have won a grand slam since 2005 (that’s six winners sharing the last 48 titles!).
Neither of Wawrinka (31), del Potro (28) or Cilic (28) are spring chickens either.
The time is now for the younger generation to snatch tennis from the grasps of Federer, Djokovic, Murray and Nadal in the same way that those players did to Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and Gustavo Kuerten almost 13 years ago.
But despite neither of those four currently being anywhere near their best, I predict they will continue to spread silverware amongst each other for the next few years.
Some will point to the likes of Nick Kyrgios (21), Dominic Thiem (23), Lucas Pouille (23) and Jack Sock (24) as future flag-bearers of the sport. However, all are lacking X-factor and while it’s possible to see them winning here and there, it’s unlikely that they will dramatically disrupt the current status quo.
A damning statistic for the younger generation is that Alexander Zverev is the only teen in the world’s top 100. Furthermore, the average age of the top-10 is 29.
For a long time, Federer and Co. were sublime and were worthy of every piece of praise they got for being part of tennis’ golden era. However, that period is now over and while their continued success must be applauded, it must also be seen as an indictment on the younger generation.
This week Federer and Nadal are in Miami for the second ATP Masters 1000 event of the year along with young-guns Kyrgios, Thiem, Pouille, Sock and Zverev. While it’s not a grand slam, it sure is a biggie and presents the youth with yet another opportunity to signal change.
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