Men’s tennis is in a very intriguing period right now. It’s about to become a whole lot more similar to women’s tennis than we’ve been used to (spoiler alert…I’m not talking about best of 3 at Slams).
For the last 15 years, if you’re habits are similar to mine, you’d scan a Grand Slam draw, sift through the 128 players, and attempt to decipher who’s going to hold the trophy at the end of the fortnight.
It’d usually take me thirty seconds, and I can’t imagine it’d take you much longer.
Because unbelievably, when you think about it, there were only ever 5 or 6 players who you’d really give a genuine chance to; the ‘big 3’, Andy, Stan, and possibly Del Potro, when he was fit.
Of course, there would be a cluster of ten to fifteen who you could conceivably pencil in for a QF slot, or even a SF if everything fell into place. But when it came to the crunch, you just couldn’t see that next tier of competitors penetrating through the wall of champions that stood before them.
For a lot of tennis fans, there’s a disappointment in accepting that Roger, Rafa, and Novak aren’t going to be gracing the courts for much longer. There’s also been a prevailing sentiment that tennis will be boring once they’ve gone.
To an extent, they’re right. Anytime a champion retires, there’s a sadness about it. Yet when you have three of the greatest, finishing up at similar times, the vacuum threatens to suck the life out of the tour, which has been a genuine concern for 5 or 6 years.
But I’m seeing a different side to the men’s tour now….
Here’s a metaphor for you…Think of the ‘big 3’ as your favourite restaurant. When watching them, you knew what you’d get. You’d be comfortable sitting down to watch a main course of Roger at Wimbledon, Rafa in Paris, or Novak in Australia. And you’d be content to consume that every weekend. It never mattered if they were competing against each other in an epic 5 setter, or cruising through an early round against an underdog beyond the top 100.
We were thrilled to be watching them. Even more so if you were lucky enough to see them live. But… there are a hundred other restaurants (players) out there, that I, and probably a lot of us, metaphorically walked past every day. Scanned the menu, maybe visited once a year, but generally ignored them, and revisited our favourite.
As we stand, in men’s tennis, it’s almost like the restaurant has put up the closing down sign, and we’re all being forced to try new flavours. Personally, I was hesitant at first, but now I am appreciating what’s truly on offer.
And this is where men’s tennis, in my opinion, is about to become like women’s - at least for a few years. If we look at Slam results on the ladies side, we have to go back to 2016 to find a year where we didn’t have 4 different champions. That’s 5 calendar years where no player has won multiple Slam titles.
In 2021, there were 21 completed Premier/Mandatory tournaments on the WTA tour. This resulted in 14 individuals picking up a winners cheque. Since the dominant Serena era has come to a close, I have found women’s tennis far more interesting (absolutely nothing against Serena, but there was really no genuine rivals to push her regularly).
Nowadays, there are multiple mini rivalries, and going into a tournament, you honestly don’t know how it will play out. In short, women’s tennis is engaging and fascinating.
Back to the men’s…From the Madrid 2008 tournament, through to the same event in 2017, the big 4 (Murray included), won 88.5% of Masters titles. 69 from 78. Phenomenal. Boring? At the time, I didn’t think so, but on reflection, possibly.
Fast forward to current times, and of the most recent 10 Masters events, we’ve had 9 different winners!
Boring? Definitely not.
How many of you follow a football league of some sort? Is it more exciting when there’s consistently 2 or 3 teams at the top? Or does it lure you in further, when 8-10 teams are genuinely in the hunt? I’ll take the latter thanks.
So why has there been such a pall cast over men’s tennis as the inevitable closure of the big 3 era draws near? Is it because the tier of players below them just never felt worthy enough of taking over the reins? Maybe. More likely it’s simply that we’ve been so accustomed to the same names appearing on a Sunday, that, like our favourite restaurant, we’re feeling a bit pessimistic about what is to follow.
Don’t be pessimistic any longer.
The next crop of players are exciting, talented, and worthy of taking tennis into a new era. Brand new rivalries are forming, and, like the women’s side, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to pick a winner, and I’m not going to try.
But, purely as an example, is it not feasible to think that over the next couple of years, we could see Medvedev win an Australian Open, Alcaraz a French, Berretini a Wimbledon, Sinner a US Open…?
Or, alternatively, none of those players might find themselves lifting a trophy. It could easily be Tsitsipas, Fritz, Shapovalov, Auger-Aliassime, Rublev, Ruud, Korda, Norrie… In this case, the list really does go deep.
There’s a lot to be excited about in the world of tennis right now. But for me, having the men’s scene become more like the women’s, is exactly what we need, to succeed the recent era of dominance we’ve witnessed.