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COULD MEN'S TENNIS HAVE A 'WHALE'



A frequent favourite of mine, and a set of DVD’s you could always count on to be in the bargain bin, was the 1999 movie ‘The Mummy’ and it’s 2001 sequel ‘The Mummy Returns’, staring Brendan Fraser. Whether it was the ahead of its time special effects, low quality writing or questionable plot, for some reason eight-year-old me was drawn to it.


15 years later and I’m at the cinema watching ‘The Whale’, completely stunned that this is the same Brendan Fraser from ‘The Mummy’, giving a performance of a lifetime. Having been cast aside in Hollywood, no one had heard much from Fraser in several years, yet out of nowhere, he was receiving standing ovations and ‘Oscar buzz’.


A few months later, Fraser received the Oscar for best actor in a leading role, and the once forgotten about star, who was labelled past their prime, had now reached the peak for an actor.


The equivalent of winning the best actor Oscar in tennis, would be to win a singles title at one of the four majors. However as recent results would show, it could actually be easier for some tennis players to win an Oscar then a major.


Since 2004 there have been five different winners of the men’s Australian Open singles title, (Novak Djokovic X10, Roger Federer X6, Rafael Nadal X2, Stan Wawrinka x1 and Marat Safin X1).


In the same time frame there have been four different winners at Wimbledon, (Federer X8, Djokovic X7, Nadal X2 and Andy Murray X2).


Not surprisingly the French open, dominated by Nadal, has also only seen five different winners since 2004, (Nadal X14, Djokovic X2, Federer X1, Wawrinka X1 and Gastón Gaudio X1).


Out of all of the majors, since 2004, the one that has had the biggest variety of winners is the U.S open, where there have been 10 different winners, (Federer X5, Nadal X4, Djokovic X3, Murray X1, Wawrinka X1, Juan Martín del Potro x1, Marin Čilić X1, Dominic Thiem X1, Daniil Medvedev X1 and Carlos Alcaraz X1).


From 2004 to today, there have been 76 men’s major singles finals held and yet there have only been 12 different winners, had Djokovic been allowed to compete in some of the majors from 2020-2021, that number could have even been smaller.


Now obviously this is a result of there of the all-time greats in tennis all being in their prime at the same time, so it is to be expected for there to be less variety of winners.


Yet with the three greats in Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, all over the age of 35, you would have thought that at the very least, they wouldn’t have been able to dominate as they have at the last five majors. Yet, besides the U.S open, one of these three have won every major in that time frame.


Even though Federer is retired, the other two have still looked unbeatable when healthy, and while its felt like one of the younger and up and coming players, such as Medvedev, Alcaraz, Alexander Zverev, Casper Ruud, Matteo Berrettini, Stefanos Tsitsipas and so on, are going to be the ones to take the title of Nadal or Djokovic, it hasn’t happened yet.


So it begs the question, could we see a ‘Whale’ like performance in tennis?


What I mean is, Brendan Fraser was past his “acting prime”, and while he may have once had great success, he hadn’t had any major roles in a long time, and no one would have predicted him to win the most coveted awards for a male actor, especially over some of the other actors who have been far more relevant in the last decade.


So in tennis terms, instead of one of these up and coming stars taking over and putting a halt to Djokovic and Nadal’s success, could it actually be an older player, who is viewed as past their prime, who can reproduce their past form, even just for one major, to give a performance of a lifetime?


So who could be some of the candidates?


One obvious answer is Andy Murray. Soon to be 36, there is no doubt Murrays prime has long passed, and having not won a major since Wimbledon 2016, let alone making it past the third round of any major tournament, it would be quite a shock to see Murray lifting another trophy anytime soon.


Various injuries, including having two surgeries on his hip, have seen Murray be a shadow of himself. Yet, much like Fraser, the fanfare is still there for the Brit and when he defeated the 13th seed Matteo Berrettini in five sets at this year’s Australian open, many were quick to rush back to show their gratitude.


Murray follow that up by coming back from two sets down against Thanasi Kokkinakis, to win the match after playing for five hours and 45 minutes, giving us another reason to show him some love.


Those opponents might not be some of the world best, but it still showed that Murray can have bursts that allow him to not only play at a high level, but despite his injuries, he’s capable of going five sets.


While it’s unlikely Murray could sustain a high level of play for a whole major, you never know, one injury run, a favourable draw and with his level of experience, it could see him beat out some of the up and comers and see him become a ‘Whale’.


Another candidate, which I must admit, is incredibly improbable to win another major, is Stan Wawrinka. Now as doubtful as it may be to see Wawrinka’s body hold up at a tournament, you should bear in mind, that if you had told anyone a year ago that Brendan Fraser would win the best actor Oscar, they would have called you crazy too.


At 38 and without a doubt beyond his best, Wawrinka hasn’t made it past the second round of a major since 2020. So for him to not only beat out the younger batch of players, but to take out the likes of Nadal and Djokovic in order to win a major seems ludicrous.


However, the one thing Wawrinka has on his side is experience, not just in the sense of being a veteran of the game, and having success, but the fact that he has twice beaten Djokovic in a final (French open 2015, US open 2016) and once beaten Nadal in a final (Australian open 2014).


Obviously that was a very long time ago, but having the added confidence boost that if he could produce his best, he is capable of beating out Nadal and Djokovic, something that not too many players these days are able to say.


For 117 minutes, Brendan Fraser was able to give a performance in ‘The Whale’, that reached levels few actors are capable of. Did anyone think he had that in him? Highly unlikely, and while acting and tennis are very different, it’s not to say that a Murray or Wawrinka or someone similar could shock us and lock in for one tournament to claim the silverware.


At the end of the day, whether it be a ‘Whale’ like player, one of the younger players or Djokovic and Nadal continue to clean up, let’s just hope we start seeing some more competitive major finals.

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