In the last decade, men's tennis has experienced an era of exceptional, unparalleled quality. Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic look set to continue this golden age in the next five years.
From 2005 to 2010 two men dominated world tennis to an incredible extent – Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, developing one of the fiercest rivalries in tennis history.
They won a frankly astonishing 21 Grand Slams out of 24 possible, the only other men to win being Marat Safin in the 2005 Australian Open, Novak Djokovic in the 2008 Australian Open and Juan Martin del Potro in the 2009 US Open.
Murray and Djokovic had to live under the shadow of these two all-time greats when in any other era; both would have won a fair few Slam titles of their own.
However since 2011, Djokovic, and, to a lesser extent, Murray have broken through, emerging as potential greats in their own right. Djokovic’s golden year of 2011, in which he won three Slam titles and climbed to world number one, was swiftly followed by Murray’s own breakthrough in 2012, reaching the Wimbledon final, winning the Olympic title and the US Open, as well as reaching a personal best ranking of number two.
These two players are now more likely to be found in the finals of Grand Slams than Nadal and Federer – and at only 26, they still have several years at their peak left.
The same cannot be said of either Rafa Nadal or Roger Federer though, both of whom have shed their previous aura of near-invincibility. Their early exits to players ranked No. 135 and No. 117 at Wimbledon does not, of course, mean that Nadal and Federer are no longer top players – and yet the early exit could become less and less unusual in the coming Slams.
On the evidence of the third-set of Nadal’s second-round exit to Steve Darcis, his back problems seem very much an on-going problem, aggravated by the punishing Tour schedule. It remains to be seen whether Rafa still has enough weapons to triumph when not playing on clay.
Federer’s early exit to Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky was arguably an even greater shock; the legend toppled by an upstart serve-and-volleyer, on what had previously seemed like his home turf. The reason behind Federer’s gradual but definite slide is simpler: age.
The Swiss is simply not able to keep up with his rivals who hit harder and run faster, meaning that when he plays he needs to be at the very top of his game to win against the other members of the ‘Fab Four’ of men’s tennis.
And while of course the man who some have called the greatest player of all time is not irrelevant to the top honours any more, he is not considered favourite against Murray, Djokovic or Nadal.
As for players outside the top four who may challenge in coming years, it is difficult to see many with the right attributes to challenge Murray and Djokovic. Possibly Juan Martin del Potro will recover the form, which saw him claim the 2009 US Open, otherwise the promising youngsters Jerzy Janowicz, Milos Raonic and Ernests Gulbis all have various issues despite clear talent.
Unless one of these can truly make the most of their talent, it looks like we should get used to the majority of Slam finals being contested between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic in years to come.
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