It was the summer of 1985 when Boris Becker lifted up his first Wimbledon trophy as an unseeded 17-year-old. Decades later, the scenario of men’s tennis has been reformed to a great extent as the adolescent faces of tennis do not really come into the limelight during the Grand Slam tournaments. Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are still dominating the sport and this week the three of them entered the 300th week on the top three ATP rankings.
In 2005, Rafael Nadal won his first Roland-Garros title as a teenager (19 years, 3 days) and since then there hasn’t been any teenager on the men’s circuit who could win a Slam. 53 out the past 64 Slams have been shared among Federer, Nadal and Djokovic (also the past ten Slams have been taken by the ‘Big Three’) and remaining men could win a major title only during their twenties and thirties.
“We are surrounded by [potential] teenage Grand Slam champions. In any other sport, people get younger. For some reason, in tennis, everybody takes a lot longer to be successful. And that has nothing to do with forehands and backhands. I am convinced it will happen. It should happen. This would be the only sport where it didn’t happen,” Boris Becker said.
Besides, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, none of the active ATP men aged under 28 could make it to the finals of a Grand Slam (barring Dominic Thiem and Milos Raonic). This depicts the quality of the sport and the dependency on the ‘Big Three’ and without Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, tennis would be hollow and the sport won’t have any meaning once the three men hang their boots. The 25-year-old, Dominic Thiem could reach the Roland-Garros finals twice, but the other men on the tour have to step forward with an eye to remold this sport and maintain its youth.
In a nutshell, there hasn’t been any young generation ATP contestant over the past 15 years who could win a Slam. Also, the average age of ATP tournament winners in 2019 is over age 27. Presently, there are talented ATP men who certainly have the potential to carry forward the legacy of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.
Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas have toppled over the three men at Masters events and ATP Finals to claim their titles, but the world outside witnesses Grand Slams more than any other event of tennis. The best-of-five sets at the majors provide ample of time to the ATP men to work upon their strategies and the rest days in between the matches allows them to recover from their previous day’s fatigue.
Reaching the later stages at majors is inevitable for the new era contenders in tennis in order to depict the variety and the competition prevailing in the sport. Predominantly to overshadow the dominance of the unprecedented men, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic and that promises about the sport of tennis having a bright future.
“I was just reading a stat that no active player outside the big three under 28, (apart from Thiem and Milos Raonic in 2016), has been in a grand slam final. That is not good. That is not a compliment for anybody under 28. And don’t give me that the others are too good. We should question the quality and attitude of everybody under 28. It just doesn’t make sense,” the first German to win Wimbledon, Boris Becker said.
Beyond the shadows of doubt, the three men, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have accomplished more than what an individual can achieve in his tennis career and the ATP tennis audience is seeing something they will never see again and also, the records created by Federer, Nadal and Djokovic wouldn’t be broken by anyone in the near future of tennis.
However, if the legends are superseded while they are peaking in their careers, certainly the audience might get to watch some quality tennis and the legacy of the sport will be preserved with the incoming of better level of tennis.
“As much as I respect Roger, Rafa, and Novak, young players should show up. Give me something I want to talk about. Eventually, they (big three) will be too old. But you want to see the passing of the torch while they are still in their prime. You want to see Stefanos Tsitsipas and Dominic Thiem beating them when they are still very, very good,” Becker continued.
Technically, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are superior to the other men on tour, but the secret weapon to success in tennis is the mental strength. And that aspect of the game needs to be taken care of. It’s alright to lose matches and make mistakes on the court, but trusting oneself and overcoming those setbacks by working upon the shortcomings is important.
Tennis players do have a tough life, they experience endless hours of traveling, jet lags and on top of that they have to hit the practice courts despite how they feel, but when they are on a tennis court for a battle, they give it all they have. That mental toughness has to be developed within the young players to overcome all the odds with a motive to etch their names at Grand Slams.
“There’s a certain mentality that they (younger players) don’t have, that the three others do have. It’s not the forehands. It’s not fitness. It’s the mindset, the attitude that makes the difference between winning and losing,” Becker said.